They pounded out a door and into dazzling sunlight.
Jarvey blinked, not daring to believe his eyes. “You found the way out!”
“Don't wave the flag yet. Come on, duck down low and get into the wheatâno, you goose, the wheat, the tall grassy stuff! Lower!”
She put a hand on his back and forced him to lie on his stomach, while she hugged the ground next to him. A moment later, the door they had come through opened again, and the older man and the boy stepped out. “Nothing,” the man said. “Augustus, what is the matter with you? You know that an actor should never break characterâ”
“I heard someone call out,” Augustus doggedly insisted. “I know I did, Father.”
The man looked at his son for a long time, shaking his head.
Jarvey's breathing was painful, because inside his shirt the Grimoire pressed hard against his chest, and he was trying to push himself right down into the dirt. If the two looked the right way, they'd spot him for sure, he thought, wishing he had chosen a spot with better cover. Betsy was more well hidden than he, with tall clumps of wheat growing all around her. Jarvey lay more or less between rows.
However, neither of the two figures glanced his way. The older actor sighed and said, “Oh, I don't know. Perhaps you did hear something at that. Katrina Three has been behaving oddly these past few months, missing cues, even ad-libbing laughter now and again. Perhaps it's time I retired her to become an usher and created a replacement.”
“I don't think it was her.”
The older man clapped the younger one on the shoulder in a fatherly gesture. “She, my boy. The proper way of saying it is âI don't think it was she.' ”
Jarvey could see Augustus's expression, and from it he judged that Augustus didn't much care what the proper way of saying it was. He looked angry and a little dangerous, as if he wanted to hit something, anything.
“Come back inside, son,” the father said, holding his hand out. “We must return to our rehearsal.” He patted the boy on the back, and they both disappeared through the door.
As soon as they were gone, Jarvey sat up. “What happened to you?” he asked. “I looked everywhere!”
“Stay down!” Betsy clamped a hand on his neck and pushed him so he lay on his side, hidden by the wheat. “I found a door that led backstage,” she said before he could speak. “I thought you were right behind me! I heardâ”
“I thought I saw youâ”
They stared at each other for a moment, and then they both laughed. It was a shaky, nervous kind of laugh, but still a relief “Those dolls,” Betsy said. “They wear out or something, and thenâ”
“He makes new ones,” Jarvey said. “The old ones get put out in the hallways and just sort of wander around until”âhe shiveredâ“until they fall apart.”
“ 'S good to see you,” Betsy said. “You had enough to eat?”
“Get more out here. Lots of lovely fruits and things. Water too, not bad. D'you think your mom and dad are here?”
Jarvey shook his head. “I don't think so. I don't know for sure, though. Look, do me a favor, and don't go off by yourself again. I don't like being on my own.”
“Missed you too, cully,” she said with a shy grin. “But what is this place? A whole world that's just a theater? Who are these people?”
To answer her, Jarvey raised up on his elbow and reached into his shirt, where he had stuck the playbills along with the Grimoire. He pulled out a handful of them. “Look at these.”
The first one, in very ornate lettering, was like all the rest except in a few details:
Betsy leafed through the playbills, shaking her head, as Jarvey told her about seeing the crumbling creature in the corridor, the mysterious vanishing audience, and about the bizarre actor-dolls he had found in the dressing rooms. “I don't think anyone but the family is even really alive here,” he finished. “They've turned this world into a theater where they're always the stars.”
“That's crazy,” Betsy responded. “It's like playacting when you're little children. If no one is real except the Midion family, if there's no real audience, then what's the point?”
“I don't know,” Jarvey admitted. A stray, bent stalk of wheat was tickling his neck. “Do you think we might get up now?”
“Well, perhaps,” Betsy said. “They seem to have gone. Maybe we should wait a bit, though.”
But Jarvey was tired of lying down, with the Grimoire uncomfortable against his chest. “It's okay. Come on.” He stood up and began to dust himself off.
And at that moment the door, not a hundred feet from him, banged open and Augustus Midion stared straight at Jarvey with angry eyes and shouted, “Father! Father! Come quickly!”
arvey dropped to his knees, thrust the Grimoire into Betsy's hands, and said, “He hasn't seen you! Keep it safe!” Then he leaped up and bolted, running for the orchards at the far side of the garden.
Jarvey sprinted full-tilt, arms pumping. He circled away so that if Augustus was pursuing him he wouldn't notice Betsy, but after a few hundred feet he realized he
being pursued. He leaped over a winding pebble-lined brook and then risked a glance behind him. At the far end of the mile-long garden, the door stood open, but he couldn't see anyone standing in the doorway, and no one in the garden, unless Augustus was crouching, staring at him from the wheat or the rows of beans. Betsy was nowhere to be seen, and if the coast was clear, she'd be heading for him.
Jarvey couldn't take the chance that Augustus wasn't somewhere out in the garden. He ducked down and hustled, taking a zigzag course. Sweat stung his eyes, and his chest began to ache from effort. Finally, in the shade of a triple row of apple trees, he had to pause to get his breath. He ducked behind a tree, stood up, and craned cautiously to look out. Still no sign of pursuit. Had Augustus and his father trapped Betsy?
No, Jarvey told himself, that wasn't likely. Bets was far too experienced at evading capture. He knew how she could find cover, how she could all but make herself invisible. She didn't share the magical abilities of her grandfather, the mysterious Zoroaster, though. Jarvey remembered vividly how Zoroaster had once briefly turned both of them invisible, and how Jarvey was blind during the spell because his invisible eyes could not focus light on his invisible retinas. Betsy had no magic like that, but she was an experienced thief and she must have gotten away. She might even have sneaked inside the building and might be making her way back toâ
Jarvey shrank behind the gnarled black trunk of one of the trees, his hand gripping the rough bark. Augustus had just stepped outside the door, and with him his father. The two distant, tiny figures seemed to be arguing, though from this far away Jarvey could see very little of them and could hear nothing at all.
He backed away until he came to the last and biggest tree, growing right up against the bare marble wall. Jarvey stretched to grasp the lowest limb, grabbed hold of it, and swung himself up. He crept higher in the tree, hauling himself from limb to limb to a place where leaves concealed him well, but where there was a little tunnel through the leaves that let him see the garden. The branches hung heavy with masses of fragrant apple blossoms, and if Jarvey hadn't been so scared and exhausted, he might actually have enjoyed the climb, except maybe for the bees.
Golden honeybees buzzed all around him, and from this height he could see rows of square white wooden bee-hives in a long line against the marble wall over to his left. Jarvey fanned with his hand, trying to discourage the honeybees from investigating his sweaty face. They were real insects, not illusions. Jarvey supposed the Midions needed them to pollinate the garden, and maybe to produce honeyâwait, something was going on out there, something moving slowly toward him like a spread-out, gray mist.
Jarvey gasped and scrunched himself small. Walking through the rows of crops, still far away but coming toward him, stalked a whole row of men in dark evening dress. Junius Midion must have summoned members of his phantom audience to join in the search. At the very center of the line, Junius and Augustus strode along, peering this way and that. Where was Bets? He couldn't see her. He hoped she'd found a place to hide. If Junius Midion got his hands on the Grimoire ...
But right now he had to worry about being caught himself. Jarvey desperately looked around for some means of escape. He had none. The tree was too far away from the next one for him to move over. He couldn't climb down without the risk of being spotted.
But perhaps he could climb higher! This was one of the tallest of the apple trees, and its old, twisted branches thrust up and up and then spread out in all directions. It might be just possible, Jarvey thought, to swing out onto a branch and reach the roof of the first terrace.
He climbed slowly, inches at a time, not wanting to draw attention to himself and not trusting the old branches to hold him. At one point a curious bee landed on his face. Jarvey froze and felt the maddening itch as the insect crawled over his forehead, down his closed eyelid, and across his right cheek before taking off and buzzing away. Staying still and keeping quiet for that was about the hardest thing that Jarvey had ever done.
The higher limbs were smaller and less sturdy. Jarvey found one that crooked out and overhung the terrace, and he swung his way out on that one, hand over hand, with his feet dangling, but the old wood creaked as though in warning, and the branch began to bend and shake. A few leaves fell spinning from the smaller twigs.
With an effort, Jarvey got himself just far enough out and, stretching down, stood on tiptoe on the flat roof of the marble terrace, still gripping the branch. He released his hold carefully, letting the limb swoosh back up into place as slowly and quietly as possible. The marble underfoot had collected years of fallen apple-tree leaves, and these had decayed into a kind of mushy, slippery soil. Jarvey edged his way out of this mess and onto the smooth bare stone, backing and crouching at the same time. The ghostly searchers had walked more than halfway across the garden by then. If only they wouldn't look up, Jarvey thought, he might be safe. However, from this point he couldn't see much of the garden at all, except for the tops of the trees, and so he was out of sight of the searchers.
The sinking sun beat down, so fierce that its heat felt almost like a physical pressure on his skin. After what seemed like an hour, he heard voices, first just the murmurous sound, and then the actual words. Junius Midion seemed angry. “You have interrupted our precious rehearsal time for this, my son. Well, here we are, and there is no boy. Augustus, are you satisfied at last that you were mistaken?”
Augustus sounded dogged and upset when he replied, “I know I saw him, Father. A little ragamuffin of twelve or thirteen, a lot like Bates in
Life on the Streets, or, The Beggars' Tragedy.”
“But we haven't done that play in thirty or forty seasons now, and we haven't had a Bates in ages,” Junius shot back. “Nor a boy of twelve or thirteen in any of our plays of late date.”
Jarvey lay on his stomach and inched forward. He peeked over the edge of the terrace and saw Junius and Augustus nearly below him, under the shade of the trees. Beyond them, the phantom army of searchers wavered in the sunlight, looking transparent and insubstantial. None of them thought to look up.
From twenty feet below Jarvey, Junius Midion chuckled, a rich, self-satisfied sound. “Son, I think I know what is happening. You have a wonderful imagination, the great Midion gift of invention, and it is acting up a bit just at present. Like your father, you are destined to be a great playwright as well as a talented and successful actor. Perhaps your first effort might be titled
The Ghost Boy, or, The Intruder in the Garden, eh?”