Read Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) Online

Authors: Terry Kroenung

Tags: #Humor, #Fantasy

Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures) (4 page)

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
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“This a bad place,” he told us in a soft voice. Well, as soft as he could ever manage. It still sounded like a locomotive ready to pull a load uphill. “Don’t you two come here no mo’.” He got no argument from us. “C’mon. Yo mama’s waitin’ supper.”

All the way home I kept sneaking sideways looks at our rescuer. Something didn’t smell good and no mistake. I remembered that knife against my nose, and how Horace had been so ready to cut me up just because we walked on his stupid school’s lawn
.
‘We’re Merchantry men now.’
What
is
this Merchantry?
Eddie grabbed my hand tight. It looked like he thought the same thing.
What’s goin’ on at St. Bart’s?

No, something really wasn’t right.

 

3/ A Weird Chamber

“Be extra careful this evening. It’s the summer solstice and…things… will be abroad.”

 

“What did I tell you two about that place?” Ma said, holding a beefsteak on Eddie’s black eye. We sat in the kitchen of our flat, a half-block north of the theatre. I could smell the chicken boiling for supper. My mouth watered despite how much I hurt all over.

“We didn’t think anybody’d be there this time of year,” Eddie told her, wincing.

“They was awful nasty,” I said, rubbing all the parts of me that ached. “Acted like they guarded it or somethin’.”

Ma shook her head and muttered, “Merchantry men, they said?”

“That’s what I heard Horace say, whatever that means. His pa’s company, maybe? I’d like to find out.”

“No!” We jumped a little at the violence of that word. Ma’d gone white as a sheet and started shaking. “Don’t even think that!” She grabbed me hard under the chin. “You stay away from St. Bart’s. And anyone starts talking about anything you don’t understand, particularly about the Honourable Merchantry, you skedaddle away as fast as your legs’ll take you. Hear?”

“Yes, ma’am. But I don’t understand why---”

“Were any of the boys blonde? White-blonde, with coal-black eyes?”

Eddie and I looked at each other as we replayed the fight in our minds, then we shook our heads.

“Well, they wouldn’t be out in the sun anyhow, I guess. That’s good.” She still looked as scared as I’d ever seen her, fidgeting with the dinner plates and her apron.

Romulus clomped up the back stairs into the kitchen. I saw no sign of the horrible blow Wilbur’s club had struck his bald brown head. Not so much as a bruise.
How can that be?
He leaned against the door jamb, facing sideways so he could look out at the street and still talk to us.

“Looks okay, Miz Sauveur. Everything seems normal, like.” He pronounced our name like we said it, not the proper Gaullic way: sew-FAIR. She heard plenty of jokes at Ford’s about that being the perfect costume designer name.

“Thank you,” Ma said, looking as grateful as could be. She stirred the stew pot and added some onions. “Can you check around the theatre after sundown? And keep a lookout during the rehearsal?”

“My pleasure, ma’am.”

“Do you have your mirror?”

He patted the pocket of his gray cotton shirt. “Never go anywheres without it.”

I felt confused. Eddie looked just as puzzled. “Lookout for what?” he asked. “They’re just kids.”

Ma eased herself down at the dinner table. “It’s not Horace’s gang I’m worried about.”

“Who, then?” I asked, sitting on her lap. “And why does Romulus need a mirror?”

She hugged me tight, then gathered Eddie into her arms with us. “You’re getting to be big. It’s about time to tell you, I suppose. Only right and fair that you know how the world really is. And what your part in it might be.”

Eddie made a face. “Is this that talk about babies and storks? Because I have to be honest, Silky Sadie who works the corner told me that what really happens is---”

Ma laughed despite herself. “No, it’s not that.”

Eddie had been holding out on me. “What did Silky Sadie tell you?” I asked him.

“Never mind,” Ma said. “We’ll have
that
talk soon enough, I imagine.” She scooted me off and stood up. “As for the other thing, that’ll have to wait till tomorrow. Time for supper now, and then off to rehearsal. Mr. Booth will throw a hissy fit if it starts late. Go wash up, you two.” We ran off to the basin and the soap. As we did so I heard her say to Romulus, “Be extra careful this evening. It’s the summer solstice and…things… will be abroad.”

* * * * *

 

Ford’s Athenaeum started out as a Baptist Church. When they’d moved on to a new place, John T. Ford had taken over the 30 year-old building and made a music hall out of it. He owned several such theatres, here and in Maryland. Folks trusted him as being wise in business affairs and as honest as a saint. That meant something in Washington. Mr. Ford had even been acting mayor of Baltimore once. When he decided to do a thing, it got done right. I’d seen evidence of that firsthand. The theatre had just opened in March, after an expensive remodeling. Popular from the first, President Lincoln had even attended a play there, only three weeks before. It’d turned from a house of God to a house of Art, but you could still sort of tell that it had been a church once. It had that feel, like ancient forces throbbed beneath it.

I finished stowing the last piece of scenery, Duncan’s throne, backstage. Helping to stow it, anyhow. It took four of us to move the thing, they’d built it that massive. Booth, both the star and the producer, had gone all-out on this show. We half-expected a stage full of horses for the Act V battle scene. Nearby, Eddie and Ma dressed actors in armor and wigs. I wouldn’t see much of them once the play started, as my duties were mostly on the other side of the stage. After giving them a wave, I weaved my way through the crush of performers and stagehands to the up right corner, where I’d wait until they needed me to help shift a flat or adjust a bush.

Ducking under one of the half-raised drops, I smiled at the fly operator next to his bank of ropes. It amazed me that all of this chaos—flats, curtains, trapdoors, smoky fire-prone gas lights, racks of costumes, tables full of greasepaint—could result in something as wonderful as a play. Even more amazing, some of the flightiest people you’d ever seen managed the chaos. Booth, as full of himself as any man who’d ever lived, impressed me as a paragon of sense compared to most of the actors who shared the stage with him. Lady Macbeth loved laudanum a little too well. Our doddering King Duncan didn’t always know what play we’d staged. Sometimes he’d burst into a song from some music hall performance he’d done as a young man. Banquo seemed well-cast as a ghost, because he frequently became invisible (well, actually he had to be fetched from the basement maintenance closet, where he’d be romancing one of the witches). Despite all of this, the play itself proved a marvel. Only Shakespeare could have made so artificial a thing into such a scary, dreadful event. The jaws of our opening-night audience would drop. That I could guarantee.

It felt hot as Hades in the stuffy theatre. All of the gas lamps and limelights seemed to double the temperature. It made me real glad I didn’t have to wear any of the heavy costumes Ma’d made for the actors. My union suit and overalls had me sweating enough without adding velvet to it all. The boots they forced me to wear whenever I worked in the theatre—Mr. Ford’s rules—chafed my toes something awful. Bare feet are ever so much better in summer. I started to count the minutes till I’d be free of this torture.

The play started. Booth chose to have his performers act out the opening battle scene while the sergeant described it. That sure took my mind off of the heat. Watching swords and shields crash into one another, I moved in my little corner as if onstage myself, weapon on hand. Johnny Lee Harper, the actor playing Macduff, had planned all of the fight moves. A lot of them seemed too repetitive to my eyes, nothing like what real soldiers might do. I began to wish that I’d been allowed to swing a sword in this play. Then they’d see something.

Be careful what you wish for, the old sayin’ goes. You might just get it.

My first scene change came up after that. I placed my bench and retreated back to the corner.
There it is, I thought. My glamorous career in show business.
You need a chair moved? Call Verity. Artificial shrub placement? I’m your girl. Carry a flat and lash it to another one? That Sauveur kid’s a whiz-bang at that. No wonder I started to daydream between scenes, inventing stories that me and Eddie could act out later.

Lady Macbeth—Emily Thatcher-- poked me in the ear. I about jumped to the moon. It took both hands over my mouth to not let out a holler. If an opium-addled over-the-hill ingénue had surprised you, could you do any better? She whispered that she hadn’t intended to scare me, but could I go and find Banquo? He’d be on in two minutes and nobody had seen him. She added that a delivery of props that day had filled the basement with hazards, so I should watch myself. Sighing, I set off on my next grand adventure.

I expected to find him down in the basement again, rutting with Witch Number Two. Having seen cows do the same on our Maryland farm, I couldn’t see the attraction. Seemed downright undignified to me, especially in that heat. But all of the grown-ups seemed to think it great sport, so there must be something to it. I reminded myself to find Eddie and get the lowdown on what Silky Sadie had said to him.

The stairs tended to squeak, so it took a long time to go down them. I had to walk on the sides and tiptoe, candle in one hand, the other hand on the rail. Behind me I could hear Booth booming out a speech, but the basement walls muffled the words. My candle made really spooky shadows on the wall, like goblins dancing. Smells of sawdust, mold, and cat poo tingled my nose. The dark didn’t normally scare me much, but something in Ford’s basement always got to me. It felt for all the world like something old and weird lived down there.

At the bottom I took a look around. A round gray mouse crawled out from under a pile of boxes and looked at me like I owed him a toll. Plump little Ernie. That’s what I called him. He always patrolled there. For some reason the theatre cats wouldn’t go near him. I just ignored the little guy and kept moving, not being one of those girls who jump on chairs when rodents show up. The walls looked dirty but cool. Cobwebs covered them, but I couldn’t see any spiders. I spotted the maintenance closet just ahead. It held spare parts for rigging, oil for lubricating hinges, and tools for fixing anything that might break. A cot sat in there for the handy man to use if he needed a nap after a long day. I pictured Gus
Shepherdson
, our Banquo, showing Daisy Melville, his witch, how handy he was with tools.
Yuck.

Tapping lightly on the door got me no answer. I rapped a little harder. No light showed beneath the door, but that didn’t mean much, considering the circumstances. I gritted my teeth.
Darn these fool actors!
Though tempted to leave them both there to face the wrath of Booth and Mr. Ford for missing their entrance, my hand grabbed the door handle and yanked. It screeched open and I jabbed the candle in. Nobody home.

With a roll of my eyes at the wasted trip, I turned around to go back up. Looking to my right, I noticed all sorts of new stuff. Lady Macbeth had been right in saying that a delivery cluttered things up. Just a quick glance showed me baskets, picture frames, old makeup tables with busted mirrors, teapots, a moose head. Even a harpoon. Turning to the steps, the candle light revealed something shiny in a far corner to my right. A full suit of armor.
Boy howdy!
I’d never noticed that before. Must’ve just arrived today. Picking my way carefully over packing crates, under false trees, and through a maze of other assorted stage junk, I made it to the antique. Somebody had painted it in gold, most likely for a long-dead play. It even had a fancy leather belt around its shiny waist. No sword, though.
Oh, well. Can’t have everything.
A tap told me that I felt real iron, not plaster or any other pretend material. It looked very old, maybe even as old as King Arthur. They said that knights were short back in the olden days, and this suit made me believe it. I could just about wear it. Maybe tomorrow I’d sneak back down and have Eddie help me try it on.
Verity the Valiant, Savior of Mankind.
Backing up to admire it better, I discovered that the floorboard beneath my right foot was probably as aged as Camelot, too. It groaned and gave way, sending me straight down like a condemned man dropping through a gallows trapdoor.

I only fell about eight feet, but it felt like eighty. Crashing through the pitch-black, I didn’t know where the bottom would be. Ending up on my rump, I sat there panting from the surprise. A quick check told me that nothing seemed hurt much. Due to some miracle, the candle lay within arm’s reach and still burned. I grabbed it and held it up to see how I could get out of my predicament.

I knew I stood below the basement, of course. That meant that I must’ve landed in some old root cellar or the foundation of a building that pre-dated the Baptist Church. Turning in a slow circle, I saw that the walls of this new space were cut from solid stone, carved smooth by somebody a very long time ago. I spied no door, so the original entrance had to have been from above. But I made out no steps, neither. They might’ve been made of wood and been removed.
Is this some ancient Injun temple, maybe?
I couldn’t make out any of their markings. What, then? No furniture, no paintings, nothing at all. Just a bare stone room. And how could I manage to get out of it?

Since it appeared that I might be stuck there until somebody came down to the basement to hunt for me, I decided to take a look around. It paced out at maybe twenty feet square. Although the walls were solid and smooth, cut from living rock, the floor wasn’t. Its designer had inlaid big tiles, but like no tiles I’d ever seen. Not square, but odd-shaped. In fact, they looked just like…my Legacy Stone.

BOOK: Brimstone and Lily (Legacy Stone Adventures)
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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