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Tessa couldn’t help but smile. “It is a bit like they’re your children, isn’t it?”
Charlotte sighed. “Yes,” she said. “Except for the part where they’re required to love me, I suppose.”
Tessa could think of nothing to say in reply to that.
* * *
Since Charlotte insisted that there was something she had to do in the drawing room before supper, Tessa made her way to the dining room by herself. Once she had arrived there—quite proud of herself for not having lost her way—she found that Will was standing on one of the sideboards, tinkering with something attached to the ceiling.
Jem was seated in a chair, looking up at Will with a dubious expression. “It serves you right if you break it,” he said, and inclined his head as he caught sight of Tessa. “Good evening, Tessa.” Following her stare, he grinned. “I was hanging the gasolier crookedly, and Will is endeavoring to straighten it.”
Tessa could see nothing wrong with the gasolier, but before she could say so, Jessamine stalked into the room and shot a glare at Will. “Really! Can’t you get Thomas to do that? A gentleman needn’t—”
“Is that blood on your sleeve, Jessie?” Will inquired, glancing down.
Jessamine’s face tightened. Without another word she turned on her heel and stalked to the far end of the table, where she set herself down in a chair and stared stonily ahead.
“Did something happen while you and Jessamine were out?” It was Jem, looking genuinely worried. As he turned his head to look at Tessa, she saw something green gleam against the base of his throat.
Jessamine looked over at Tessa, a look of near panic on her face. “No,” Tessa began. “It was nothing—”
“I’ve done it!” Henry entered the room triumphantly, brandishing something in his hand. It looked like a copper tube with a black button on one side. “I’ll wager you didn’t think I could, did you?”
Will abandoned his efforts with the gasolier to glare at Henry. “None of us have the slightest idea what you’re on about. You do know that?”
“I’ve gotten my Phosphor to work at last.” Henry proudly brandished the object. “It functions on the principle of witchlight but is five times more powerful. Merely press a button, and you will see a blaze of light the like of which you have never imagined.”
There was a silence. “So,” said Will finally, “it’s a very, very bright witchlight, then?”
“Exactly,” Henry said.
“Is that useful, precisely?” Jem inquired. “After all, witchlight is just for illumination. It’s not as if it’s dangerous… .”
“Wait till you see it!” Henry replied. He held up the object. “Watch.”
Will moved to object, but it was too late; Henry had already pressed the button. There was a blinding flare of light and a whooshing sound, and the room was plunged into blackness. Tessa gave a yelp of surprise, and Jem laughed softly.
“Am I blind?” Will’s voice floated out of the darkness, tinged with annoyance. “I’m not going to be at all pleased if you’ve blinded me, Henry.”
“No.” Henry sounded worried. “No, the Phosphor seems to— Well, it seems to have turned all the lights in the room off.”
“It’s not supposed to do that?” Jem sounded mild, as always.
“Er,” said Henry, “no.”
Will muttered something under his breath. Tessa couldn’t quite hear him, but was fairly sure she’d caught the words “Henry” and “fatheaded.” A moment later there was an enormous crash.
“Will!’ someone cried out in alarm. Bright light filled the room, sending Tessa into a fit of blinking. Charlotte was standing in the doorway, holding a witchlight lamp aloft in one hand, and Will was lying on the floor at her feet in a welter of broken crockery from the sideboard. “What on earth …”
“I was trying to straighten the gasolier,” Will said crossly, sitting up and brushing crockery bits off his shirt.
“Thomas could have done that. And now you’ve gone and wrecked half the plates.”
“And much obliged to your idiot husband for that.” Will looked down at himself. “I think I’ve broken something. The pain is quite agonizing.”
“You seem quite intact to me.” Charlotte was remorseless. “Get up. I suppose we’ll be eating by witchlight tonight.”
Jessamine, down at the end of the table, sniffed. It was the first noise she’d made since Will had asked her about the blood on her jacket. “I hate witchlight. It makes my complexion look absolutely green.”
Despite Jessamine’s greenness, Tessa found she rather liked the witchlight. It laid a diffuse white glow over everything and made even the peas and onions look romantic and mysterious. As she buttered a dinner roll with a heavy silver knife, she couldn’t help but think of the small apartment in Manhattan where she, her brother, and her aunt had eaten their meager suppers around a plain deal table by the light of a few candles. Aunt Harriet had always been careful to keep everything so scrupulously clean, from the white lace curtains at the front windows to the shining copper kettle on the stove. She had always said that the less you had, the more careful you had to be about everything you did have. Tessa wondered if the Shadowhunters were careful about everything they had.
Charlotte and Henry were recounting what they had learned from Mortmain; Jem and Will listened attentively while Jessamine gazed in boredom at the window. Jem seemed especially interested in the description of Mortmain’s house, with its artifacts from all over the globe. “I told you,” he said. “Taipan. They all think of themselves as very important men. Above the law.”
“Yes,” Charlotte said. “He had that manner about him, as if he were used to being listened to. Men like that are often easy marks for those who want to draw them into the Shadow World. They are used to having power and expect to be able to get more power easily and with little cost to themselves. They have no idea how high the price for power in Downworld is.” She turned, frowning, to Will and Jessamine, who seemed to be quarreling about something in snappish tones. “What is the matter with you two?”
Tessa took the opportunity to turn to Jem, who was sitting on her right side. “Shanghai,” she said in a low voice. “It sounds so fascinating. I wish I could travel there. I’ve always wanted to travel.”
As Jem smiled at her, she saw that gleam again at his throat. It was a pendant carved out of dull green stone. “And now you have. You’re here, aren’t you?”
“I’ve only ever traveled before in books. I know that sounds silly, but—”
Jessamine interrupted them by slamming her fork down onto the table. “Charlotte,” she demanded shrilly, “make Will let me alone.”
Will was leaning back in his chair, his blue eyes glittering. “If she’d say why she has blood on her clothes, I would leave her alone. Let me guess, Jessie. You ran across some poor woman in the park who had the misfortune of wearing a gown that clashed with yours, so you slit her throat with that clever little parasol of yours. Do I have it right?”
Jessamine bared her teeth at him. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“You are, you know,” Charlotte told him.
“I mean, I’m wearing blue. Blue goes with everything,” Jessamine went on. “Which, really, you ought to know. You’re vain enough about your own clothes.”
“Blue does not go with everything,” Will told her. “It does not go with red, for instance.”
“I have a red and blue striped waistcoat,” Henry interjected, reaching for the peas.
“And if that isn’t proof that those two colors should never be seen together under Heaven, I don’t know what is.”
“Will,” Charlotte said sharply. “Don’t speak to Henry like that. Henry—”
Henry raised his head. “Yes?”
Charlotte sighed. “That’s Jessamine’s plate you’re spooning peas onto, not yours. Do pay attention, darling.”
As Henry looked down in surprise, the dining room door opened and Sophie came in. Her head was down, her dark hair shining. As she bent to speak softly to Charlotte, the witchlight cast its harsh glow over her face, making her scar gleam like silver against her skin.
A look of relief spread over Charlotte’s face. A moment later she had risen to her feet and hurried out of the room, pausing only to touch Henry lightly on the shoulder as she went.
Jessamine’s brown eyes widened. “Where’s she going?”
Will looked at Sophie, his gaze sliding over her in that way that Tessa knew was like fingertips stroking over your skin. “Indeed, Sophie, my dear. Where did she go?”
Sophie shot him a venomous look. “If Mrs. Branwell had wanted you to know, I’m sure she would have told you,” she snapped, and hurried out of the room after her mistress.
Henry, having set down the peas, attempted a genial smile. “Well, then,” he said. “What was it we were discussing?”
“None of that,” Will said. “We want to know where Charlotte’s gone. Did something happen?”
“No,” Henry said. “I mean, I don’t think so—” He glanced around the room, saw four pairs of eyes fixed on him, and sighed. “Charlotte doesn’t always tell me what she’s doing. You know that.” He smiled a little painfully. “Can’t blame her, really. Can’t count on me to be sensible.”
Tessa wished she could say something to comfort Henry. Something about him made her think of Nate when he was younger, gawkish and awkward and easily hurt. Reflexively she put up her hand to touch the angel at her throat, seeking reassurance in its steady ticking.
Henry looked over at her. “That clockwork object you wear around your neck—might I see it for a moment?”
Tessa hesitated, then nodded. It was only Henry, after all. She unhooked the clasp of the chain, drew off the necklace, and handed it to him.
“This is a clever little object,” he said, turning it over in his hands. “Where did you get it?”
“It was my mother’s.”
“Like a sort of talisman.” He glanced up. “Would you mind if I examined it in the laboratory?”
“Oh.” Tessa couldn’t hide her anxiety. “If you’re very careful with it. It’s all I have of my mother’s. If it were broken …”
“Henry won’t break or damage it,” Jem reassured her. “He’s really very good with this sort of thing.”
“It’s true,” said Henry, so modest and matter-of-fact about it that there seemed nothing conceited about the statement. “I’ll return it to you in pristine condition.”
“Well …” Tessa hesitated.
“I don’t see what the fuss is,” said Jessamine, who had looked bored throughout this exchange. “It’s not like it has diamonds in it.”