A Darkness Strange and Lovely (11 page)

“Oh.” I frowned.

“You need training or that lit fuse is going to go too far. An explosion of foolish girl.”

I sniffed. “Or foolish man. Don’t leave me to go buy new top hats.” I set a hand on my hip. “If you have enough money to buy that, then why did
I
buy our train tickets?”

He turned away, his cheeks reddening. “Because I don’t have the money.”

“You stole it! Just like your boat ticket and all that alcohol.”

“Shhh!” He leaned close, his eyes scanning everyone around. “Yes, I might have
borrowed
it, but I was attracting too much attention without something covering my head. We’re in France now. If you think the rules of society mattered in Philadelphia, they are
nothing
compared to what awaits us in Paris.”

“Oh, pshaw. The Spirit-Hunters aren’t concerned with society, so I don’t see why we should be.”

Oliver rolled his eyes as if I was the most naive creature in the universe. “All thoughts on the morality of stealing hats aside, we have to work extra hard at keeping ourselves anonymous. You have a team of Hell Hounds and a powerful necromancer after you. The last thing we need are stories about us in the
Galignani’s Messenger
.”

“The what?”

“It’s a newspaper for English-speaking visitors in France. It details what everyone is doing, thereby fulfilling the gossip needs of society—and you can be certain that a glowing girl with a handsome lad such as myself is the sort of story people
talk
about.”

“You’re changing the subject.” I puffed out my lips. “If I really am a lit fuse, then I suppose you’ll have to teach me necromancy.”

“Are you joking?” He folded his arms over his chest. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do for the last week?”

“Well, I was scared. I am scared. It
is
scary, don’t you think?”

He grimaced. “Remind me never to drink with you. You babble like an idiot.”

“Humbug.” I snorted. “But I do want to learn it now. It feels so good! And I don’t want to cast any more accidental spells. Plus . . .
oh
! Just imagine what I could do to Marcus with necromancy.
Boom!
” I wiggled my fingers like an explosion. “Fight fire with fire, you know.”

“Or you could simply talk him to death. I feel on the verge of suicide myself—”

“I’m
serious
, Ollie. Teach me necromancy. I order you to.”

“Fantastic.” His mouth quirked up, the faintest sheen of triumph in his eyes. “But in about ten minutes when this stupor wears off, do not forget what you said. Now come on.” He held out his hand. “The train is here, and you have a team of Spirit-Hunters to find.”

Chapter Nine

The view outside the train was exactly as Henry James
described it in
Madame de Mauves
: trees of cool green, meadows rolling onto the horizon, and a gray light that made the sky look silver.

I pressed my face against the window while Oliver maintained his usual slouch in the seat across from me. I groaned inwardly. Why had I ordered Oliver to teach me necromancy? And why, now that the magic had worn off, was I not regretting that decision more?

What was
wrong
with me?

Despite my frustration with my scruples (or lack of them) and despite the fact that my legs were going numb sitting on the hard seat, before I knew it I had dozed off against the polished wood wall. I was soon traipsing through
As You Like It
’s Forest of Arden with Orlando shouting his love to me and posting love poems on all the aspens.

Although, when I awoke five hours later, it occurred to me that the grassy green of Orlando’s eyes and the wool of his gray flat cap were entirely too similar to a certain Spirit-Hunter’s I wanted to forget.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Oliver asked. “You look awfully pale.”

I gulped and sat up straighter. “I just . . . dreamed of someone. Someone I’d rather not think of.”

“That inventor fellow?”

I gaped at him. “H-how did you . . .”

He chortled. “Let’s merely say that when you told me about the Spirit-Hunters, your careful avoidance of discussing him, combined with the lovesick look on your face—”

“I am not lovesick!”

“Of course not,” he said flatly. “Does
he
know how you feel?”

“I refuse to discuss this with you.”

“Fine. Suit yourself.” He shrugged. “It’s good you could nap. You wore yourself out with that spell.”

“And blazes, am I hungry now.” I folded my arms over my stomach. “I cannot
wait
to feast on croissants.”

He grinned. “They are the best pastry in the world, aren’t they? Did you know they were brought to France by Marie Antoinette? They’re actually an Austrian creation.”

“Really?”

He lifted a flat-palmed hand. “I swear. I met her ghost. She was
not
pleased with death. She kept moaning, ‘
Pas chance pour l’amour.
’ No chance for love.”

“Is that true? Is there no love on that side?”

“Of course it’s not true. You saw Elijah. His love for you hasn’t faded or else he wouldn’t have come into your dream and saved you from the Hell Hounds.”

I frowned and turned my gaze out the window. Russet and gold-tipped trees were sprinkled over foliage still clinging to summer-green. As we roared by, it all blurred together like some Impressionist painting.

If Elijah had come to my rescue out of love, then what did that mean about Clarence Wilcox? Why had
he
saved me?

“However,” Oliver continued, “there is a much higher chance for broken hearts in the spirit realm. More often than not, lovers get separated.” He spoke as if he’d experienced that separation firsthand.

I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. “Ollie, have you ever loved?”

He nodded slowly. “I loved your brother, and . . .” A shy smile spread over his lips. “I find I am starting to love you.”

I shifted in my seat, surprised by his honesty. “You do not mean . . . that is to say, you do not love me romantically.”

He barked a laugh. “Egads, no! Not for you—no, no.” Then his face sagged, and he turned away to stare out the window.

I desperately wanted to ask “For whom then?” but the way his lips compressed . . . he looked so utterly sad that I could not bring myself to do it.

Plus, at that moment, he withdrew a silver flask from his coat pocket and drank back something that smelled like whiskey.

“Where did you get that?” I demanded.

He smacked his lips. “I saw it in your roommate’s luggage and decided it was the perfect size for my hand.”

“You stole from
Laure
? But she’s your friend!”

He frowned. “Not Laure. That old goat-faced lady—”

“Mrs. Brown?” I squealed. “No!
No!
She carries a flask?”

“Carried,” he corrected.

I sniffed. “You’re awful. And you really must stop stealing.”

He opened his hands in a noncommittal way, and then after taking another long swig, he slumped down in his seat. “You know,” he drawled, “I actually know quite a lot about love from my
many
years of watching the universe—”

I groaned. “Oh, the wise demon doth speak. Hark so that we all may learn!”

He laughed, straightening slightly. “I’m serious. I’ve seen a lot of souls pass through my home, and I’ve seen a lot of loves still hanging on. Those long-lasting ones”—he tapped his heart—“are the ones filled with tenderness and smiles.”

“Oliver, the demon poet,” I said drily.

He rolled his eyes. “One last piece of advice, El: if this Spirit-Hunter does not love you back, then good riddance. Real love isn’t about drama or heartbreak. Real love just is.”

I ran my tongue over my teeth and stared silently outside. Oliver was right—I knew he was right. With a sigh, I turned back toward him. “You remind me of Elijah, you know. The way you talk to me. The things you say. You’re just like he was before . . . before . . .” I shook my head, unable to say the words.

A heartbroken smile dragged at Oliver’s lips and eyes. “I’m not surprised. When a necromancer calls for a demon, the one that answers is the one most similar to the necromancer.” His fingers went to the locket. “Elijah was a good man before revenge took over his mind.”

I tried to swallow, but my throat was pinched too tight. “He sacrificed himself at the end—jumped in front of one of the Hungry to save me.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” He bent forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “He cared about you more than anyone else in this universe. Even more than
me—
hard to imagine, I know.” The edges of his mouth twisted up.

“Tell me about him,” I urged. “Tell me what you used to do together.”

“Other than chess and riddles?” Oliver’s face shifted into a frown. “There was a great deal of eating . . . and sleeping. Oh, and studying. Can’t forget all the bloody libraries he used to drag me to.”

“What about . . . what about necromancy? I know you said you were more his friend than his tool, but surely he used your magic
some
. What spells did he have you do?”

Oliver’s frown deepened. “I’d rather not talk of it.”

“Please?”

“No.” He sat up. “Please, El. It’s too . . . too fresh.”

“Oh.” I hugged my arms over my stomach. “Then perhaps later?”

“Or perhaps never.”

“But why?”

He clutched at his heart and turned away. “Because it’s personal, that’s why. Can’t you be satisfied with knowing that he cared about you?”

“No.” I slid to the edge of my seat. “I
can’t
be satisfied with that. I need to know more—”

“Well, you won’t learn more from me.” He gestured almost tiredly to the window. “We’re coming into Paris, if you care to see.”

That ended my protests immediately, and I pressed myself as close to the window as I could get. In the distance, cast in pink, was a crowded city with layers that rose up like a cake and crawled with movement. It was like watching the dancers in a ballet, and I felt a sudden, deep urge to write bad poetry.

But the closer we got, the more the charm started to vanish. And the more complex the labyrinth of streets and buildings around us became, the more the filth and soot stood out.

“It’s so . . . so dirty,” I said at last.

“Ha!” Oliver barked. “Isn’t every city?”

“Philadelphia certainly is, but . . . I had this idea of Paris being . . . well . . . perfect.” I gnawed my lip. “Where are all the electric streetlamps? Or the bridges and gardens? The ones you see in the prints?”

“Oh, you’ll see them—just wait until we reach the center of the city. It’s always dirtiest on the edges.”

Soon enough we were zooming through the Paris of which I’d dreamed. All around were the quintessential beige buildings with their iron-fenced windows and dark, shingled rooftops. Chimneys poked up in organized rows, silhouetted by the evening sun.

But what impressed me most was the number of electric lamps that rose up, elegant and iron, to illuminate the streets. City of Light, indeed! It was like a fairy world twinkling at sunset, and I could honestly say I had never seen or imagined anything like it.

“Tell me what everything is,” I ordered, my face smashed against the window.

Oliver scooted beside me and pointed. “There’s a house, there’s a house . . .
that
looks like a
boulangerie
, and over there’s another house.”

I glared at him. “I mean the famous places. The Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre or Notre Dame or—”

“All the places that aren’t beside the train tracks.” He snorted. “Patience, El. You will see them in good time. But look.” He pointed to the hill with its jagged rooftops and crooked, ever-rising angles. “That hill is Montmartre, the home of the bohemians: the artists and Gypsies who don’t want to live in the city.” He grinned as if remembering fond times. Then he pointed again, this time to where the train was aimed. “And that, up ahead, is our train depot.” He turned toward me, opening his hands wide. “
Et voilà Paris, Mademoiselle.

 

The interior of Gare Saint Lazare was disappointingly foul—especially after the glamour of the city’s streets. We pulled into the triangular-roofed station built of exposed metal and wood and were soon filing off the train—only to be greeted by row after row of locomotives. With so much smoke billowing from each, it was a wonder the high skylights of the depot weren’t any blacker.

Oliver, my carpetbag in his hand, strode toward red archways marked
SORTIE
. I scurried after, and in moments we reached a set of steps heading down to tall-windowed exits.

“Where do you want to go?” Oliver yelled to be heard over the noise of the trains and people. An old couple swerved around us, glaring at our sudden stop, and a gust of perfume ran up my nose.

I coughed into gloved hands. “So many people!”

“Welcome to Paris, El.” Oliver smiled. “Do you want to find the Spirit-Hunters’ hotel now?”

“Only if you agree to meet them.”

“Absolutely
not
.”

“You must see them at some point,” I insisted, though secretly I was relieved. I wasn’t sure
I
was ready to face the Spirit-Hunters with my new necromancy, much less with a demon in tow. Joseph had made it plain enough how he felt about necromancy, so until I could find a way to prove I
wasn’t
doing anything wicked, it seemed best to simply pretend it had never happened. Why darken my easy friendship with the Spirit-Hunters with something over which I had no control?

Oliver closed his eyes, his head cocking to one side. When he opened them again, they flashed blue.

I started. “Wh-what was that? I thought you couldn’t do magic without my command.”

“I can’t.” He shook his head. “I was merely testing our bond. In case . . . well, in case we get separated. You can find our bond too. You simply . . .
feel
for it.”

I mimicked the movement he had made, closing my eyes and angling my head. Sure enough, now that I searched, I could sense the slightest thread winding its way around my heart.

I opened my eyes. “I feel it, but what do you mean by ‘get separated’?”

He flashed his eyebrows. “Your friend is here.”

“Eleanor!” shrieked a high voice.

My heart swelled, and I spun toward the sound. There was Jie, bounding over a bench, skidding around a pile of luggage, and then throwing her arms around me. “You’re here!”

“I am!” My voice came out as a squeal; and after squeezing me so hard I choked, Jie pushed me back for inspection.

“You look tired—it doesn’t suit you.” She poked me in the belly. “Though you’re lace-free, yeah? I’m proud.”

I scanned her right back, from bald forehead to booted toes. “Well,
you
haven’t changed a bit—though I daresay, these are fine clothes.” I fingered the tan wool of her suit jacket.

“You think this is nice? Wait’ll you see Joseph and Daniel. You won’t even recognize ’em. They are”—she twirled one hand in the air—“
à la mode
. Our host buys them so many hats and gloves and ties.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s ridiculous. He tried to get me to start dressing like the Parisian ladies, but then I threatened to punch his face in. We finally compromised on a few new suits instead.” She tugged at her lapels, teeth bared in a smile.

I scrunched up my forehead. “The boys sound foppish.”

“Don’t tell them that, yeah? Daniel will bite your head off, and Joseph will just frown until you feel like a rotten lowlife for speaking your mind.”

I laughed tightly. “And here I thought joining you all meant I needn’t worry about clothes or society anymore!”

“You don’t with me, Eleanor.” She pointed to my carpetbag. “This all you brought?”

“Uh . . .” I twirled around. Where was Oliver?
Get separated—ha.

I turned back to Jie and beamed. “Yes, that’s mine. Now tell me everything!”

“You first!” She swooped my bag up over her shoulder, and we joined in the flow of people leaving the station.

“I’d rather wait,” I said, choosing my words carefully. It was all going so well, and I wanted to cling to that a bit longer. Later—I could always talk about Oliver, Marcus, and the Hell Hounds later.

“I’m tired,” I continued. “It’s been a long day. You tell me about Paris first.”

“Fair enough.” She smiled. “But let’s get a cab, yeah?”

Several seconds later, I took my first steps into Paris, and my heart grew so big, I had to shuffle to a stop and simply soak it all in.

In some ways Paris was as familiar to me as Philadelphia—the carriages rattling on the cobblestones, the people hurrying home, the smell of horses and mud and
city
—and yet in most ways it was so, so different.

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