Frenzies of gingerbread adorned the house’s facade, but it was splintery, paint peeling in long shaggy spirals that fuzzed the fretwork’s outlines. The left side of the house drooped like the face of a stroke victim, windows staring blindly out, cataracted with the dusty remnants of curtains.
Agent Artemus West thought that it would have given a human man the chills. He glanced back at Elspeth to see how she was taking it, but her face was chiseled and resolute as a fireman’s axe.
“You all right?”
She swabbed at her forehead with a bare forearm, leaving streaks of dark wet dirt. “Thank your lucky stars you’re mechanical and don’t feel the heat,” she rasped.
Hot indeed if enough to irritate her into mentioning that. He chose to ignore it.
The house sagged amid slumping cottonwoods, clusters of low-lying trees, their leaves ovals of green and pale brown. Three stories, and above that, two cupolas thrust upward into the sky, imploring, the left one tilted at an angle. The wind whistled through the fretwork, a shifting, hollow sound, like a jug’s mouth being blown across. There had once been a flower garden towards the back. Weeds had claimed most of it, but the papery red heads of poppies blazed among the tangle. The sky stretched high and blue and hollow overhead.
His spurs jingled as he clanked up the front steps. His eyes ratcheted over the scene for clues, but it was clear that their fugitive had entered by the front door, which hung a few inches ajar.
Wood creaked under Elspeth’s slower treads. “This was his mother’s house,” she said.
She’d gone over the files meticulously as always, then summed up the details for him as they’d ridden along. He ticked through them in his head. “The scientist?”
“Angeline Stoddard Eisenmacher, yes. She helped discover how to harness phlogiston. She was working in Seattle for the war effort. Then she retired out here when she got lungrot and lasted another two years.”
Phlogiston, the most precious material in the world, capable of fueling marvelous machines like himself. Artemus carried a scraping of it, small as a fingernail clipping, deep in his midsection. Once a year, it was replaced, but it was valuable enough that he’d had people try to kill him for it before.
So far none had succeeded. And if it seemed that someone was about to, he held, secret in another internal pocket a sliver of terra fluida, a substance that, when combined with phlogiston, would explode. He would do that rather than be taken.
“Think he knows we’re here?”
“Of course he does,” she said. “But where else will he go? We’ve hunted him through the Deadlands and then the Cascades.” She glanced back along the trampled swathe they had made coming through the sea of grass. In these plains, trees were evidence of water; this cluster of cottonwoods was an oasis in this semi-desert.
Artemus doubted the man would try to escape. No, he’d try to hide himself in the house well enough to convince them that he was no longer there, in the hopes they’d move along.
But while Eisenmacher might have some inkling of Artemus’s nature, he didn’t realize how implacable the mechanical man could be. When your brain is made of a network of magnets and wires, it doesn’t feel boredom the same way impermanent human flesh does.
Or perhaps he overestimated Artemus by thinking him capable of giving up in the first place.
Elspeth said, “Angeline Eisenbacher worked on devices like you.”
He paused. “Do you think there are any in the house?”
“I do,” she said. “I looked at her invoices, from after she arrived here. She was working on something.”
“That must be what her son is after. A device that can protect him.” If he had been human, he might have been irritated.
As he stepped towards the door, it slammed shut.
The night before they arrived at Eisenmacher’s house, Artemus had laid counting the number of stars stretched out across the sky like a sequined shawl and listened to the sound of Elspeth’s breathing. Twice he heard it quicken, as though she were running through nightmares. Each time he considered rising and going to her, laying his hand on her shoulder to quell whatever monsters were chasing her, but her breathing shifted back before he ever moved.
In the early morning, as the sky began to lighten, she woke as she always did, all at once, eyes opening. One swipe of her hand across her face, and she was ready for the day. It was remarkable. He knew no women like her, even among her fellow female Pinkerton agents.
On the other hand, he rarely socialized with humans. He was the Pinkerton Agency’s equipment, and equipment didn’t socialize in the evenings, didn’t go out to the opera or to a friend’s house. It sat in a storeroom instead.
Elspeth was assigned to make sure nothing happened to him. That was her main purpose and had been for the last two years.
Humans were odd. Sometimes when their thoughts ran in the same track over and over, they could no longer think of anything else. That was, he calculated, what had happened to her. She had become obsessed with him.
Not for the first time, he thought that it would be best for her if she were to find another assignment.
He didn’t know why he’d never told his superiors that.
She heated water in the last of the coals to make tea and wash her face, then ate a handful of dry biscuits from her saddlebag.
“We have time,” he said. “You can make yourself a better breakfast if you like.”
She shook her head. “Let’s get this over.” She didn’t like these missions, he knew. They’d argued them over the campfire more than once. She thought it wrong to make someone into a clank against their will. And that they couldn’t be trusted once they had been converted into their new mechanical form.
Still, the clanks produced from their missions, the injured men made healthy again by the addition of mechanical limbs and other appurtenances, those were an important part of the war effort, the effort that had been going on almost two decades now.
The man they were chasing had given up any say in the matter when he had shot a hospital guard dead and then climbed out a window to escape. They would capture him, and he would be taken back to the War Hospital for the series of operations that would make him a mechanical soldier.
Artemus was not like those soldiers. He had never been human, had no memories of flesh or love. He had been created by the English scientist, Patrick Lovelace, only eight years ago. The first few of those he spent idyllically, living with his master as a companion, entertaining guests with the marvels of calculation and conversation that he could perform. But when Lovelace had fallen on hard times, he had offered Artemus up to the Pinkertons, who had readily perceived the advantages of a mechanical detective.
They stared at the closed door.
“Should we look for another way in?” Elspeth asked. Her voice was uneasy, not a natural intonation for her. Artemus had seen her face down wild bears, men with guns, and even once a werewolf. He looked at her now. She shook herself like a dog shedding water and returned the glance, one fine blond eyebrow raised in question.
“If it were still open, I would say yes,” he told her. “But if the door is shut, that’s not how they want us to come in.”
He shrugged. “Maybe just he. But let’s not make any assumptions beforehand.”
The door was locked, he found when he tested it. The ornate lock was a thing of chambers and barrels and prongs, but it took him only a few moments to figure out how to spring it.
He pushed it open, though he made sure he wasn’t standing directly in the doorway as he did so. A bullet wouldn’t damage him the way it would a human, but it could still hit a delicate mechanism or intricate joint. The hinges cried out as the door moved slowly inward.
They crouched on either side of the opening, listening hard, before he nodded and stepped inside, Elspeth following seconds afterward.
They stood in the middle of what had once been a formal parlor, full of graceful wooden furniture whose stuffed cushions were ragged tufts now, horse hair and batting stolen by mice for generations of nests. A cuckoo clock hung askew on the gray wallpaper scrolled with black fleur-de-lis. On the wall opposite them, shelves built into the wall housed books, but when Artemus pulled one out from the leather-bound array, it fell to pieces in his hand, bookworms wriggling frantically away across the shredded carpet’s gaps.
“How long has this place been deserted?” he asked.
“A decade.” Elspeth’s face was pale. Like most Pinkerton agents, she had a touch of the Sight. “Something’s wrong. It shouldn’t be like this.”
“Could something else have taken it over?” Empty spaces drew supernatural creatures.
She shook her head but didn’t answer. Her shoulders stooped as though she struggled to stand up.
“Elspeth?” He made a question of her name.
“She doesn’t want us here.”
“His mother?” But ghosts were easy to dispel with salt and iron. A ghost wouldn’t make her look like that. But even so, she nodded.
“Angeline Eisenmacher is still here?”
“No and yes.” Her eyes were bewildered. “I can’t tell you more than that.”
Through an open archway, they could see the dining room, a massive table leaning dizzily on a broken leg, surrounded by crouched chairs, like lions feeding on a kill. The paintings on the wall were scenes of mountains that Artemus, checking the almost encyclopedic memory Doctor Lovelace had installed, thought might be the Lusitanians.
A cuckoo clock hung near another door that most probably led to the kitchen. They chose not to investigate the apparently empty room, but chose the other archway, which led to a hallway winding its way deeper into the house. The carpet underfoot was also mouse-chewed, and all of the pictures hung askew or fallen, only a cuckoo clock hanging intact.
Elspeth said, “That’s the third clock like that.”
Artemus examined the clock. It seemed unremarkable: a typical Bavarian clock, once bright colors now faded. “It’s ticking,” he said. “Eisenmacher must’ve wound it.”
He touched the dial. Immediately the cuckoo’s door slid open and a fierce beak stabbed out at his fingers.
As he withdrew them, the beak’s owner appeared in the doorway and then launched itself into the air: a tiny clockwork bird, no bigger than a hummingbird. It hovered in the air, regarding them, the air shrilly protesting the rapid beat of its wings.
They both stood stock still, waiting. Artemus estimated the distance between himself and Elspeth, in case the bird dove at her. Those metal wings looked razor sharp.
But after a moment, the bird buzzed away and down the corridor.
“Still some life in the house, it seems,” Artemus observed.
As they explored the first floor, other birds emerged from the cuckoo clocks that seemed to have been mandatory for every room. Most swooped away as the first one had, but several began to follow the pair at a distance.
Artemus kept listening. Somewhere in this house was the fugitive Eisenmacher, perhaps listening in turn, trying to figure out where they were. He could hide in one place and stay there, if the hole were deep and hidden enough, or he might rely on moving around the house in synchronicity with their movement, hiding only where they had already looked. But, if the latter, Artemus would hear him.
Instead, all he heard were the hum of the birdwings and the small noises of breath and heartbeat and motion that Elspeth made, and the creaks and murmurs of the house answering her.
They found little but dust and spider webs and decaying furniture in the rooms they passed through at first. Then they began to find traps: the trigger wire that shot a crossbow bolt through a doorway, a floor that gave way into a hole leading God knows where. A chair with knives stabbing up from its arms. A heavy glass chandelier ready to fall, right where one might pause to look out the window.
And odd things that he wasn’t sure were traps. The woman who had built this house had spared no expense as far as modern conveniences went. Stove, icebox, washing machine… All just a little more advanced than they should be, improved by Eisenmacher.
He asked Elspeth, “What did she do for the war?”
She shook her head. “Classified.”
That wasn’t helpful.
Artemus went first always. Elspeth followed behind. They had been working together long enough that they knew each other’s reactions. They made their way through a hallway that curled past the kitchen, then led towards a narrow servants’ staircase.
“Eisenmacher?” Elsbeth called. They listened to her voice echoing through the rooms upstairs. “This is pointless, sir. Come out and save us all a lot of time.”
A voice echoed from somewhere. Artemus spun, but he couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. “Go back, Pinks! I won’t go with you, dead or alive.”
And then the house began to come to life.
It started with the gaslights flickering in the manner of all gaslights, but they were the wrong color. They were white with just a hint of brilliant blue, the color of phlogiston. Birds buzzed through the air, a whirling crowd of clockwork. Upstairs, faint music played: a tinny, old-fashioned waltz.
One by one, every window snapped shut, then each door except for one, directly facing them: the doorway framing narrow wooden stairs, proceeding upward, then twisting around so you couldn’t see what stood at the head of the stairs. The birds subsided.
Artemus and Elspeth exchanged glances. Elspeth’s hands moved in sign language.
He wants us to go upstairs. That seems like a good reason not to.
Artemus replied, But how else will we catch him?
It’s a trap.
Traps are most effective when the prey isn’t wary. He’s bitten off more than he chew.
Doubt crawled across her face but she nodded reluctantly.
He’d removed his spurs the night before. Now he eased his booted foot onto the first stair, not in the center but to the side where it was less likely to creak, listening for any sound of movement from above.
Step. Step. Step. He was almost to the tiny landing where the stairway turned. This was a staircase for servants, who wouldn’t have been allowed to use the carpeted, wide front stairway. He wondered what had happened to the servants when Mrs. Eisenmacher died. Had they fled together, no longer willing to live in this isolated place, miles and miles from any civilized gathering? What had made Mrs. Eisenmacher seek out this spot to build a house?
And, moreover, such a grand house, like one of the mansions in Seattle, far to the west.
When he inched his head around to look up the stairs to their head, he saw no one standing there, beside the squat brass post that ended the banister. The air was still silent except for the sound of his partner’s breath.
If he had been capable of pride, he would have gloried in the silence with which he could move. No clumsy, clanking machine he, but rather a carefully calibrated mechanism.
He was almost to the top of the stairway. The quiet air felt thick, as though it had congealed with time. Behind him, Elspeth followed, her steps loud in his ears, even though he knew someone else would not have been able to perceive them. There was a thin gray light, stronger to one side as though coming in through the front windows of the house, only half able to enter it.
Elspeth’s revelation that the house might contain others like him had given him pause. The Pinkerton agency had invested in him because he was so effective against humans. But he’d never fought other mechanicals.
He rested his palm on the top of the post and paused again, listening.
With the quickness of a striking serpent, the top of the post elongated upward into a brassy tendril, several inches wide at the base then tapering slowly into a metal tentacle. It coiled around his wrist with a pressure that would have sheared a human hand off, but only slightly indented his metallic skin. It exerted that pressure for several seconds as he tried to pull away from it, then abruptly released him. He leaned back, only his inhuman speed allowing him to avoid its slash out through the air towards his face.
Elspeth had stepped backwards, down in order to avoid its reach, a pistol in her hand. The brass tentacle wavered as though trying to figure out what was going on, searched first a few inches towards him, then her. Elpseth’s gun tracked the movement, but she held her fire, letting him act.
This time he was prepared. His hand flashed out to grab the tentacle at its base and pull with all his strength. Metal screeched protest as it detached from the rest of the post, and oily blue fluid gushed like blood from the jagged stump. The tentacle writhed wildly in his grasp, spraying more fluid across the stairs.
Elspeth teetered on the suddenly slick stairs, leaning sideways. With horror, he saw a panel slide open to catch her flailing figure, then shut again.
He was down the stairs in an instant, hammering on the panel. Wood splintered, but behind it lay an iron surface.
“Elpseth!” he shouted, and listened, but no answer came, only fresh laughter from the second floor.
He struck the iron once with all his strength, which sounded like a gong throughout the cavernous house.
A bird swooped close and his hand flashed out. It hadn’t understood the speed he was capable of; it tried to dodge but his hand closed around it, imprisoning it. Its beak flashed out, striking at his fingers, leaving fine lines where it had scored the metal skin, but it could not escape.
He looked down at it. His fingers started to tighten, to crush it, but he relented.
It was like himself, something made and yet alive.
He opened his hand and it flickered away, to where two other birds hung in the air, out of reach. They watched him as they hovered, but made no other move.
All he could do was go on.
The source of the laughter could not be found on the second floor, no matter how he searched. It echoed through the vents, bouncing and re-bouncing until there was no way to figure out where it was coming from.
He searched meticulously, disarming trap after trap, and the thought came to him that he was moving faster now than he could have if he had had his partner in tow. But the advantage of speed was not something he would have sacrificed her for.
There was only one staircase leading to the third floor, its narrow confines showing that it was reserved for servants and storage. He hesitated at its foot. He did not have a sense of smell in the way that humans did, but he was capable of analyzing impure air. Something up there was long dead.
Surely that smell would have kept his quarry from going that way. But he went upstairs nonetheless, cautiously skirting anything that might behave as the post had.
He discovered the servants remained.
There were five of them, not an unusual number for a house the size. They had been killed in their beds, killed with a blade that had stabbed downward with inhuman ferocity. The bodies lay in pieces, scattered like a macabre puzzle.
Thoughts bubbled in his metal brain. Had Elspeth already met such a fate? The notion made him feel very strange. She had trusted him. She had trusted him to take care of her. She had trusted him so much and so often, and he had failed her once already. He could not do that again.
He hadn’t known what was going on when it first started. They had been traveling together for several months at that point. He liked her better than the first partner he’d had, who had treated him always like a machine. She acted as though he was a person and it wasn’t a pretense. She really did think of him as a person.
Too much so, it turned out.
He hadn’t understood the language of glances and sighs. He’d seen her watching him, but he hadn’t known what lay underneath that stare.
And when she’d confessed her love, stammering and red-faced, as aware as he that this was not supposed to happen, that was when he had failed her. Human hearts were delicate; he hadn’t known how to reject her without breaking hers.
How could he love her? His brain wasn’t constructed for such things.
She’d never spoken of it again since that night.
Neither had he. He wanted to. He wanted very badly to talk about it. Time and time again, he’d thought of somehow raising it once more. But after that, her eyes were closed to him and while they spoke as partners, it was different than how they’d spoken before.
Now she was helpless, and even possibly dead. They’d give him a new partner and he’d go back to being a machine rather than a person.
He examined the bodies but did not touch them other than to close the upward staring sockets. He moved through the rooms, wondering what had happened. Then something nudged at his thoughts. He flickered through his mind, examining what he’d seen of the house so far, constructing a model of it within his brain.
There. There was a hidden room on the third floor.
He thought he’d have to smash through the walls, and worried that again he would find obdurate iron. But once he looked, the secret catch was easy enough to find.
Birds clustered, watching him.
Would he find the fugitive inside?
Then the door swung open fully, and he realized he had found an Eisenmacher, but not Richard. Rather, his mother.
She sat in a wicker chair by the window staring out, wrapped in blankets, so mounded that the fine silvery white hair on her head was barely visible.
The rest of the room was a sprawl of papers and tools and cogs and gears, cluttering the two long tables. Bookshelves lined the walls, more books crammed in them than they could gracefully hold.
Angeline Eisenmacher did not move as he walked over to her. As he approached, he realized why.
She was dead.
The patch of sunlight her chair sat in had come and gone, come and gone, over the decade, baking her dry and withered. He reached out to touch her shoulder.
At that slight contact, she crumbled away, falling into dry brown dust and a scattering of hair. The blankets slumped. At the same time, there came a vast windy noise, an anguished sound so loud it drove him to his knees, trying to cover his ears.
It died away slowly, ebbing with slight resurgences, a sound like human sobbing.
“Noooooooooooooo!” A force crashed into him from behind and sent him sprawling still dazed from the sound.
Eisenmacher. The man was striking him with doubled fists, blows bouncing off Artemus’ chest. Tears streaked the man’s cheeks, and Artemus tried to be gentle as they grappled, catching the man’s wrists in his unbreakable grip.
“Where’s my partner?” he demanded. But Eisenmacher seemed not to hear him, only sobbing and trying to pull away, pulling in the direction of the crumpled blankets, the drift of bones and dust. Artemus let go. The man posed no threat.
Released, Eisenmacher lurched over to the chair, falling in front of it on his knees to bury his head where his mother’s lap might once have been.
“My partner,” Artemus repeated.
Eisenmacher raised his head, looked at him with glassy eyes. “What?”
“The woman who was with me. Where is she? Where did you take her?”
“I didn’t take her,” Eisenmacher said.
Artemus frowned. “One of your mother’s automatons?”
“Did she make guards?”
Eisenmacher gazed at him until realization began to dawn. He threw his head and brayed out a surge of jagged laughter that collapsed into gasps. “Her automatons? Do you think she would have spent the last years of her life on something as petty as that?” He gestured around himself. “Don’t you understand by now?”
Artemus took a step forward, raised a fist in threat. “Tell me!”
“The house,” Eisenmacher said. “The house has taken her.”
The shutters over the window slammed shut, plunging them into darkness.
“It’s taken all of us,” Eisenmacher’s voice said.
Artemus felt his way along the wall till he reached the secret door, but when he pulled at it, it didn’t open. He groped through his pockets for the supplies he carried purely for Elspeth’s benefit: a tin of Congreve matches.
He struck it alight and it sizzled ablaze.
He was alone in the room.
He sat down at a table and began to sort through Angeline Eisenmacher’s notes.
They were scattered, disorganized, but he could see from them how brilliant she’d been, how ideas had come to her, too many to imagine, most of them entirely unrealized. This knowledge would be worth a fortune.
If he could find Elspeth and escape with it.
He’d hoped for a schematic of the house, but Angeline must have stored that elsewhere. Still, from her scattered notes, he gleaned that the house was a prototype, a brain much like his own, also powered by phlogiston, but on a vaster scale. She’d planned even grander things, vast mechanical behemoths that could stride across the battlefield, crushing everything in their path.
He found mention of the birds as well. An abandoned experiment in splitting the brain among a hundred components. Together, the birds were supposed to have the equivalent of his own intelligence, and like himself, be capable of learning from experience over time. But Angeline had been forced by the War Ministry to put them aside, in favor of the larger project. Letters back and forth revealed the War Ministry’s fading enthusiasm, though. Finally, a letter signed “regretfully” terminated her association.
Her death had prevented the delivery of the project that would have vindicated her.
Setting the papers aside, he considered what to do next. He knew where Eisenmacher had gone, for the plans for this room, at least, were included in the papers. They had also revealed where the brain was located. As far away from him as possible right now, deep in the cellar. He could try to fight his way back down the stairs, or he could follow Eisenmacher through the secret chute.
It only took a few seconds to find the latch. The panel slid open, and he looked down the dark passageway. Surely it had been intended as an escape route, rather than some more ordinary use, like a laundry chute. He could only see a few feet down, but it slanted, rather than plunging.
What choice did he have? He climbed in.
He was able to control his descent. Though the metal walls were slick and provided no handhold, the confines were narrow enough that he could brace himself against the sides. But then, about the time he calculated he had reached the level of the first floor, the floor gave way under him and he found himself plummeting.
He landed on gritty stone floor, in a narrow circular room. A feeble illumination came from the outline of the only door. He moved quickly to it, testing it. Barred from the outside, and again made of iron too thick for him to break through.
“What are you?”
The voice seemed to come from nowhere at first, but then he glimpsed a small hole near the ceiling, only a few inches wide. A speaking tube of some sort.
“I’m a Pinkerton agent.”
“No. What are you?”
“I’m something someone made. Like you.”
“Did I make you?”
Did the house somehow think it was Angeline Eisenmacher? “No. Patrick Lovelace made me.”
“What do you want here?”
“I’m here to apprehend the fugitive Richard Eisenmacher. He’s wanted for murder.”
The reply deafened him, a blast of sound that seemed impossibly loud coming from the tiny hole. “Nooooooooooo!”
He tried to recover. “Just let the woman and I leave.” They could come back later. It was clear Eisenmacher wouldn’t be leaving.
“She will stay. She will marry my son, and we will be a family again. There will be children. There will be children, and I will serve them and make more of myself to serve them.”
He battled for some way to reply, and it quickly came to him. “She’s more than just a breeding machine. I would think you would understand her struggle. There are very few women among the Pinkertons.” Had the house absorbed enough of Angeline’s personality to share her suffragist leanings?
No reply, only a cold implacable silence.
He explored his surroundings, and consulted the representation of the house in his mind. But here there were no secret doors.
The sound of scraping from the tube caught his attention. As he stared up at it, he could see movement.
A clockwork bird emerged, followed by another, then another and another. When there were a dozen or so, they hung in a cloud before him, there wings whining.
Were they trying to communicate somehow? Perhaps they were afraid if they came too close they might be caught. He lowered his hands to his sides, trying to look harmless.
The birds swooped closer, surrounded his head in a whirl of movement.
He could hear words inside his head. Were they somehow interacting with the magnetics of his brain to produce them?
Too long too long too long here, they sang inside his head.
“Can you help me escape?” he whispered, afraid that the house would hear him.
Too thick the door, too heavy. Will you help us nonetheless?
“Help you how?”
Too long too long too long here, will you set us free, will you set her free?
Now he understood what they were asking
He didn’t know how long it took him to think it through. The house would build others like itself it had said. He thought of the war behemoths, thought of them marching towards Seattle.
He thought of Elspeth, captive. Thought about her smile. Thought about the words that had engraved themselves on his brain, “I know it’s crazy and impossible, but I love you.”
Thought about her, held captive to produce children.
I know it’s crazy and impossible, but I love you.
He had never opened the compartment in his chest before. It surprised him how small the strand of terra fluida was.
He said to the birds, holding it out, “Put it in her brain and you will be free.”
If that hidden brain was powered by the amount of phlogiston he thought it was, the explosion would take out the entire house.
He sat back down, and thought about Elspeth, and waited to die.
The door opened. Elspeth stood there. He gaped at her.
“Hurry,” she said.” We’ve got to escape before she realizes the mistake she made.”
They fled up a narrow, iron-runged stair, which rang like a gong beneath their steps. There was no sign of the birds. How long did they have?
Emerging in the kitchen, they battered themselves against the shutters, to no avail.
Then a cloud of birds, a rush of birds, hundreds of tiny bodies flinging themselves against the window, splintering and falling as they shattered, and the window crashed open.
Artemus flung Elspeth out first, followed after her, grabbed her hand, and said, “Run!”
They ran. There was a great thundering roar behind them as the house exploded, and a hand of heated air pushing them forward even faster.
And then the sound of the house falling in on itself, and the crackle of flames.
When they finally turned to watch it, Artemus said, “How?”
The distant flames tinted her skin pink and red. “She thought I was accepting my fate. I told her if I was to be mistress of the house, I needed the keys to the pantry and all the rooms, like a proper housewife.”
Perhaps the house had wanted so badly to think that its desires would be realized, that it had accepted her words. No matter what, it had underestimated Elspeth in a way that Artemus thought the original Angeline might not have.
The horses were gone, frightened away by the explosion. It would be a long journey across the mountains to Seattle, but they’d endured worse before, and surely they would encounter some help along the way.
As they turned their back on the house, Artemus didn’t see the several small fluttering forms, exiting from the ashes and debris.
As he walked, he reached out and took Elspeth’s hand. She hesitated, then twined her fingers through his.
They went on, the birds following after them.
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