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Authors: Patrick Samphire

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BOOK: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb
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Ah.

I glanced back at the open wardrobe door and caught sight of a piece of paper folded and slipped into the join between two planks of wood. That was what I was after! That was my clue.

A piercing whistle sounded.

Putty was warning me. Freddie was on his way back. Outside, footsteps took the stairs, two at a time.

There was no time to get the paper. I grabbed Olivia's arm and dragged her toward the window. There was nowhere in the room big enough to hide both of us.

The gardens were empty. The laborers had been banished at daybreak, and the family must have come in to prepare themselves for the party. I unlatched the window and pulled it up.

“Are you mad?” Olivia whispered. “We'll kill ourselves. And what if someone sees us? What would they think? We should just tell Cousin Frederick why we were here.”

“Oh, yes?” I said. “And why exactly were you here?”

Olivia blushed again.

“That's what I thought,” I said.

I stepped out onto the window ledge. It was wide enough to stand on, but not much more. At the end of the lawn, the sun glinted from the waters of the Valles Marineris, which stretched all the way to the horizon. Far to the west, the great smear of lava-lit smoke from the Arsia Mons volcano spread like sunset across the sky.

Olivia climbed up beside me. Her thin slippers slid on the ledge, and she wobbled. I shot out an arm to steady her. Then we both heard the sound of the door handle.

Olivia let go of my arm and lurched to the right. I stepped in the other direction.

There was no time to close the window. All I could do was press my back against the wall and hope I couldn't be seen from inside. Olivia's fingers tightened like claws on the brickwork. Her lips pressed together and her eyes screwed shut. Her light brown hair had come free from its pins and straggled down the back of her neck. Her long, loose dress flapped in the breeze.

I heard Freddie enter. His footsteps halted. I fought the urge to twist my head and try to see inside. Then his footsteps resumed, marching resolutely toward the window.

He was going to see us. He would tell Mama, and we would be in complete disgrace. Even Papa might have to become involved.

“Must have left the dratted window open this morning,” Freddie muttered loudly, and I closed my eyes in relief. “Dashed ridiculous thing, ha-ha. Lose my own head next.”

He pulled the window back down with a bang, and a second later, the latch locked into place. We were trapped, with no way to get back in.

*   *   *

“What are we going to do?” Olivia said.

“Jump?” I suggested.

She stared at me. “We're two floors up.”

“It was a joke,” I said.

If the ground had been softer, I might have tried. As it was, we would have a better-than-even chance of twisting an ankle, even in the low Martian gravity.

“We'll have to shout for help,” Olivia said.

“Wonderful idea,” I said sarcastically. “Then not only will we have to explain to Freddie what we were doing in his room, but we'll have to tell everyone else, too.”

I peered into the bedroom. Freddie had shut the wardrobe. He must have gotten whatever he'd come for. Putty's room was the next one over. If I could jump across to the window ledge, I would be able to let Olivia safely back in. All I had to do was jump from one windowsill to another without killing myself. I steadied myself, bit my lip, and crouched.

There was no way this wasn't going to hurt.

Directly below us, the front door opened. Mama, Jane, Papa, and Putty came out to stand in a receiving line at the front of the house, almost below our feet.
Botheration!
I wobbled dangerously as I tried to regain my balance.

Papa darted his head nervously from side to side, like a bird searching for predators, but his shoulders were slumped. If he had tried to persuade Mama to abandon the party, he had been thoroughly squashed.

“Look!” Olivia hissed. She was pointing with her chin. At the far end of the drive, above the shielding line of oaks, a trail of steam traced smoke signals into the sky. The first carriage was on its way. The garden party was beginning.

“Edward,” Olivia whispered. “It'll be a terrible insult to all the guests if we are not in the receiving line. You know how important it is to Mama.”

“Stay still!” I said. “I'm trying to think.”

The steam carriage was drawing closer, pulling out of the line of trees, its heavy iron wheels crunching over the packed gravel.

“Mama is going to kill us,” Olivia moaned. “If we're not there when Lady Ashville arrives, it'll be a disaster.”

A second carriage pulled through the gates of the estate, out of sight, and steamed up the drive. Within minutes, dozens of guests would be arriving. All it would take would be for one of them to look up, and we'd be caught, pinned as neatly as bugs in a display case.

I reached into the pocket of my waistcoat and pulled out a small coin. I held it between my thumb and finger and squinted down, lining up my hand with Putty's head.

The first carriage drew to a halt below us.

The ro-butler limped forward and swung open the carriage door. Mama took a step to greet her guests, and I threw the coin.

It curved through the air …

 … And caught Jane full on the shoulder.

She jerked, then spun on Putty. “Behave,” she said.

“I didn't do anything,” Putty protested, too loud. Mama glowered at her. I remained motionless, praying no one would look up.

“Mrs. Sullivan!” Mama's friend Mrs. Adolpho said, climbing out of the carriage. “What a wonderful way of arranging the tables. Mrs. Cartwright and I could not help but admire them as we drove past. Most ingenious. Reminiscent of my own garden party last year, I could not help but think.”

Mama's voice was icily sweet. “Although, of course, we have several dozen more tables than your own little event. Quite a different scale, I might say.”

Steadying my arm, I threw another coin. It hit Putty full on the top of her head, bouncing off the hat Mama had forced her to wear.

“Ouch!” she said, and glared around.

Why wasn't she looking up? How hard was it to realize that if something hit you on top of your head, it must have come from above? Putty was supposed to be clever.

She rubbed her head.

I pulled out my last coin. This was it. The rest of my allowance for the week. She'd better notice this time. I aimed it carefully and threw. It smacked into the back of Putty's head.

At last she looked up. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Then she reached out a hand and tugged Jane's sleeve. I gaped. Why on Mars had she done that? I screwed up my eyes, waiting for the inevitable shriek from Mama.

It didn't come. Jane pulled her sleeve free from Putty's grip and stepped forward to greet the guests. Putty was still staring up at us. In a moment, she was going to draw attention.

“What are you doing?” Putty mouthed.

“Help us!” I mouthed back.

Putty put her head on one side. “What?”

“The window.” I made wild gestures at the closed window. I doubted she could see it was closed, but surely she'd realize we needed help. After all, it wasn't every day you saw Olivia out on a window ledge, her long dress flapping in the breeze, exposing her petticoat and drawers to everyone. Even Putty must think that was a bit strange.

“Parthenia!” Mama said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Pay attention.” She turned to her guests. “You must excuse my daughter. She is overexcited.”

The second carriage drew up behind the first, and a couple of gentlemen I didn't recognize climbed out, one obviously the father of the other, both with prominent noses and unfortunate, weak chins.

“Mr. Allendale! Master Allendale!” Mama cried. “Welcome to my party! You know Mrs. Adolpho and Mrs. Cartwright? They were just complimenting me on my table arrangements.”

Putty glanced back up at me.

“Go on!” I mouthed.

“Mama,” Putty said, “I must be excused.”

Mama blinked, as though she didn't recognize Putty for a moment. “Excused? Don't talk nonsense, girl.” She turned back to the gentlemen. “This is my husband, Mr. Sullivan, and my eldest daughter, Miss Jane Sullivan. I have been told that she takes after me. Certainly she has a fine complexion, would you not agree, Master Allendale?”

“Mama,” Putty said. “I really must be excused. Please.”

Mama fanned herself, her cheeks turning pink with embarrassment. “Quickly, girl! If you have not returned by the time Lady Ashville arrives…” She trailed off, realizing her guests were still listening. “That is to say, we have been singularly honored by Lady Ashville, who will be attending our garden party. But that is not all.” She leaned closer. “The great Sir Titus Dane himself has promised to pay us a visit. The first time in ten years that he has attended an event on Mars…”

Putty didn't have to be told twice. She turned tail and darted back into the house. I let out a sigh of relief. Mama would keep her guests enthralled with gossip about the great Sir Titus Dane, and Putty would be up here in a minute or two. We were going to be saved. As long as I could persuade Putty to keep quiet, we might even get away with this.

The window shot up behind me. A hand reached out and clamped hold of Olivia's arm.

And just in time. The sound of the window opening had set her wobbling again. Her foot slipped from the window ledge. Her arms spun helplessly, and she toppled forward. Then the hand pulled her around and in. I shuffled along the window ledge, then ducked back inside.

And stopped.

“Sir Titus?” I said.

The famous archaeologist smiled down at me. He hadn't let go of Olivia's arm.

“I came back, as I promised your mother,” Sir Titus said, “and I saw you up here. I thought you might need saving.”

“I didn't see you arrive,” I said.

Sir Titus's grin widened. “I came a different way. And now, to show your gratitude for being rescued…” He shrugged his long coat aside, revealing a sharp sword, which he swung up to point at me. “I have a few questions.”

I stumbled back, almost spilling myself over the window ledge.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

The sword followed me.

“Doing?” He frowned. “I'd have thought that was obvious. I'm threatening you. Crude, perhaps, but usually effective. Now step away from the window. I'd hate for you to make the mistake of calling for help.”

Carefully, I inched away, never letting my eyes stray from Sir Titus's sword. What on Mars had happened? This morning, he'd been charming Mama and Jane, and now here he was threatening us with something you could use to hack down a knight. I didn't get it. I didn't know what we could possibly have done. I wondered if he was mad. Sweat stuck my shirt to my back.

“What do you want?” I managed.

“That's more like it,” Sir Titus said. “If you do as I say, you won't be harmed. If not…” He shrugged. “It would be such a shame if you were killed. I'd be sure to offer my most sincere condolences to your poor mother and father. I might even offer to hunt down the scoundrels who had done the deed. Sadly, I don't think I'd succeed. Now, this is Mr. Winchester's room, isn't it?”

I didn't answer.

“Come, come,” Sir Titus said. “We all know it is. There's no point lying. You see, Mr. Winchester has something that belongs to me. A piece of paper, with a map on it. It's of little value, and no doubt he took it as a drunken prank, as students are wont to do. However, I must have it back. It has … sentimental value.”

“I am sure Mr. Winchester has many pieces of paper,” Olivia said primly. “We would not be so improper as to look through them.”

“Hmm.” Sir Titus smiled. “And yet there you were, perched outside his window like a couple of birds. Hardly the height of propriety, some might say.” He made a cutting gesture with the sword, dismissing the matter. “Be that as it may, here is what we're going to do. You”—he pointed the sword at me—“will go and find young Mr. Winchester. You'll persuade him to come to this room. When he's here, he'll give me the paper. Otherwise, I will put my sword through your sister's chest.” He gestured with the weapon. “Now—”

The door burst open. Putty raced in, her face red.

I scarcely had time to shout “No!” before Sir Titus's blade came around, swinging for Putty.

I threw myself at him. My shoulder caught him full in his stomach. He staggered back. The sword shot from his hand and thumped into the ceiling. Sir Titus twisted, spinning me, but he was off balance and I kept shoving. The back of his legs hit the windowsill. He tipped over, flailing for support. I gave him one last push, and he fell backward, out the window.

I hurried forward, in time to see him thump onto the ground below.

Right in front of Lady Ashville as she stepped out of her carriage.

Half a dozen faces turned up to see me peering out of the window.

 

7

Sneaking About

Mama's garden party was a disaster. I didn't get to take part—Mama banished me to my room—but I watched it from my window. Most people stayed. Maybe they hoped I'd push someone else out the window. But they spent the whole time gossiping about what I'd done to the great Sir Titus Dane.

Unfortunately, Sir Titus had survived the fall unscathed. Sometimes the low Martian gravity is a real curse. It was great that I could jump almost five feet high, but it also meant that Sir Titus hadn't been knocked silly like he deserved. I'd tried to explain what had happened, and Olivia and Putty had backed me up, but Mama wouldn't listen.

“No more!” she commanded. “It's bad enough that you shame our family in front of Lady Ashville”—she looked ready to faint—“but to continue to lie…”

BOOK: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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