The End of the Known
“You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what I want to forget.”
-Marlowe, Heart of Darkness
“It took some convincing,” said Bill. “Quite an unpleasant scene, really. But we won him over in the end. He said, ‘all right, Bill, we shall see how you acquit yourself on this trip. If you give satisfaction and show yourself a man, then you’ll have my consent. If you don’t, then I don’t suppose she’ll care to have you anyway.’”
“A glowing endorsement,” said Martin.
“Well, it’s better than I expected,” Bill replied. “Can’t think why I went and blurted it out like I did. Of course I’ve always had a reckless streak in me; act first, ask questions later, what? Did I tell you how, when I was a boy, I went and jumped off the pier at Brighton? Twelve feet straight down, and April, so the water was damned cold. We were gone to seashore for Easter holiday, see.”
“A curious thing to do. Had you a reason for it?”
“This other boy dared me to do it,” Bill answered. “Just shows, doesn’t it, what an impulsive chap I am. That’s why I have to keep it all bottled up, you see?”
“It is certainly an illustrative incident,” said Martin with a hint a dryness in his tone that Bill, unfamiliar with the Austrian’s moods, missed entirely.
“But I am most impressed,” Martin went on, “that you should show such concern to secure your prospective father-in-law’s approval. Most do not in this day.”
“Frances tells me I’m old fashioned,” Bill agreed with a faint laugh. “But you see, she’s very close to her father; they’ve been a bit of a team ever since her mother died, and I certainly wouldn’t want to create a rift between them, what?”
They spoke while sitting in wicker chairs upon the deck of a riverboat making its way up the Amazon. A comfortable passage across the Atlantic had been followed by an almost equally comfortable journey up the Amazon to Manaus, where they had remained a few days while purchasing the rest of their supplies before taking another steamer up the Purus. It was the ‘dry season,’ so to speak, though the air was heavy with moisture and the rains still came almost every day. Great, heavy downpours, with raindrops the size of hailstones lashed down upon the mighty river and its green banks, but they didn’t last long and they certainly didn’t cool anything off. Even simply sitting in the shade upon the deck of their riverboat was enough to make Bill sweat as much as he ever had in his life.
“I say,” he said, fanning himself with his book. “You’ve been all around the world, haven’t you?”
“I have travelled extensively with Mr. Corbett, yes.”
“Is it always this hot?”
Martin looked at him with a faint expression of pity.
“When one is only ten degrees south of the Equator, yes,” he answered. “Though, of course, the humidity contributes.”
“Is it going to be like this the whole way?”
“Unlikely,” said Martin. “In the thick jungle, it will be far worse. There will be no breeze, you see.”
Elizabeth, meanwhile, stood at the rail and watched the ranches and villages of the Amazon basin pass by. She was soaked with sweat, felt feverish from the heat, and the heavy, damp air seemed to resist being breathed. She was smarting all over from insect bites. All in all, she was extremely uncomfortable, and could not remember ever being happier. She was in the Amazon; that great, untamable ocean of life spread across a third of a continent, where man was not and never could be master. She stood only upon the surface now, but soon she would plunge into those dark depths and then the adventure—oh, what a word that was!—would truly begin.
Overhead, the clouds gathered once again and growled with thunder, making the air feel even heavier.
“I thought this was supposed to be the dry season,” she said to Perseus as he joined her at the rail. “If this is dry, I wonder what the wet one is like.”
“Oh, there’s no such thing as ‘dry’ in the Amazon.,” he said. “The rains don’t alter much; you get a few more downpours per day in the summer than you do in the winter, that’s all. The ‘wet’ season is so because that’s when it rains in the Andes, and all that water washes down here and makes the rivers higher and faster. ‘Flooded’ would be the more proper way to speak of it.”
“I keep forgetting it’s technically winter here,” she said. “The word sounds rather funny doesn’t it?”
They had spent a good deal of time together over the past few days. Sometimes he would tell her tales of his adventures, or they would discuss what they might expect in the coming days when they left all civilization behind, but lately they had mostly spent their time simply standing side by side and watching the banks of the river pass by.
At first, on the Amazon, there had been far more settlements and signs of human activity than Elizabeth had expected; towns, villages, cities even, and innumerable boats passing by. As they drew deeper into the basin, the signs of humanity became fewer and small, though they still floated past pretty often. There were small villages full of people of every hue and color, who paid little attention to the familiar sight of a passing riverboat. Here and there they passed great farms and ranches cut from the living jungle, with big, fine houses, some so grand that they made Elizabeth think of her own family estate. These sometimes sparked architectural discussions as they admired or critiqued the taste of the buildings: “What a hideous monstrosity!” “That one is charming; look at the latticework.” “Now there’s a house; classic Spanish style. Wonder how old it is?” “Good Lord! They brought all that paint this far into the jungle to give it that color scheme?”
But these became fewer and fewer as they journeyed, and the jungle closed in as a solid wall of green about them. Birds of every color imaginable filled the trees, calling to one another with the sharp cries of the jungle. Monkeys gambled about in the branches, watching the passing boat with disinterested eyes, as though they thought the travelers beneath their notice. The banks of the river were high, with vast expanses of mud crisscrossed with fallen trees, and in many places they saw fat caiman basking in the sun, reminding Elizabeth forcibly of sunbathing tourists, the thought of which made her laugh. At one point they saw a big, long-nosed tapir drinking in the shallows, though it took off into the jungle as they drew close. More often they saw small red deer coming down to the water to drink and watching the passersby with big, innocent eyes.
Professor Illingworth spent most of his time in his cabin, going over books and making notes in his journal. On the occasions he joined them on the deck, he would give dry lectures on the wildlife they saw (“Caiman crocodilus, commonly known as the spectacled caiman or white caiman. There are currently four recognized subspecies…”) Or else he would expound a little on a few pet theories of his own (“The evolutionary history of this region very clearly demonstrates the principle of…”). And, when he had nothing better to do, he would entertain himself by yelling at Bill.
In this way they proceeded up the Purus for several days until they reached their destination. Here, at the very end of the civilized world, the Brazilian government had long ago established a telegraph station, guarded by a small contingent of soldiers. A trading post naturally grew up around it, along with a church, and farms and so, eventually, the small village of Pordesol was born. Here goods were brought in from down river and sold among the villagers and soldiers, or shipped to the ranchers and rubber men up river. The turn off for the Rio Tardas, from which they would find the outlet of the mysterious Noite, was about three or four miles below the village, and as far as anyone knew, the only men who lived along the Tardas were the Catauxi tribesmen, who were generally friendly enough, but not keen for making contacts.
Perseus had known about Pordesol and its telegraph from an earlier trip he had taken into the interior, though he had never been there. This was how he had come to concoct his story of Colonel Torres. Early on in their plans, however, he was surprised to discover that Elizabeth knew of it as well. An old friend of her father’s, Colonel Newgate, had retired from service and left England shortly after the war and had, through a series of events that she didn’t quite understand, had ended up running the trading post in this little village on the extreme edge of the unknown.
Elizabeth having sent word of their coming ahead up the river, he was ready to greet them when the steamer pulled up to dock and embraced his friend’s daughter with warm affection. Newgate was a muscular man of medium height, with a square, expressive kind of face with a slightly elfish quality about the eyes that suggested an Irish ancestor. His greying hair was beginning to recede a little, and his clothes were simple, but clean. Elizabeth introduced him to her companions, and he greeted them with a well-bred politeness tempered by the ease of a man used to living far from society.
The trading post and general store that he ran fronted upon the docks, and his long, comfortable home extended out the back, running parallel to the riverbank. He gave a few quick orders to the comaradas who were handling the receipt of goods from the steamer, then led the expedition onto a shaded veranda overlooking the Purus. Drinks were provided, and they sat in perfect comfort while the breeze blew in off of the waters.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I was to get your telegram,” he said, leaning back in his chair and looking at Elizabeth with a warm smile. “I really thought my days of receiving old friends were over.”
“I had thought of simply surprising you,” said Elizabeth. “But then I wanted to be sure you were still here.”
“Where else should I be?” he answered. “I fully intend to die out here. It’s a good life; the people are pleasant company, there’s enough work to keep me occupied, and the scenery can’t be beat.”
“What made you decide to come out here in the first place?” asked Illingworth. “Seems a strange place for a British officer to retire to.”
“Not at all,” said Newgate. “After the war, I’d had quite enough of civilization. I looked about for the most isolated place I could go. I considered Tibet for a while, but eventually settled on the Amazon. Here, at least, no one tries to blow each other up, and I’m two weeks behind the times, so by the time I get news of trouble, it’s already been cleared up.”
“Sounds most appealing,” said Perseus. “You don’t find the weather a trial?”
“Yes I do, but it is quite worth it. Now tell me; what are you all doing here? Your telegram didn’t quite say. Some scientific survey, was it?”
“Yes,” she said. “Survey up the Noite. Perseus here says that he met an old colonel from the Empire days who I suppose must have been in this very spot, right?”
“I believe so, yes,” said Perseus. He spoke lightly, but inside he was tense. They had reached the point where the truth would soon have to come out, and he only dreaded its being discovered too soon. It suddenly occurred to him that people who lived at this station likely knew that there had never been a man named ‘Colonel Torres’ here.
Newgate added to his unease by shooting a quick glance at him, but he allowed Elizabeth to continue.
“Supposedly there are some very interesting species to be found along the Noite. We’re going to document them.”
“I see,” he said. “But, forgive me, what are you doing here, Elizabeth?”
“I’m funding the expedition,” she said. “Thought I ought to know what my money was being used for.”
“Really?” he said. “Is that all?”
She smiled a little embarrassedly.
“I confess, no. I’ve always wanted to go on a trip like this, and I didn’t know when I would have another opportunity.”
“I see,” he said, frowning a little. Perseus guessed that, like him, Newgate saw that Elizabeth had no idea what she was in for. But he said no more and instead began inquiring after their mutual friends in England.
After they had sat and chatted for a time, Newgate showed them over his house and store, which was remarkably comfortable and well-furnished for being so remote. He gave them a regular tour; showed them his wares, showed them his comfortable, book-lined rooms, his shining rifles upon the wall, and his photographs of old friends from England, whom Elizabeth wasted no time in examining.
“There’s father, of course,” she said. “That was during the war, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, just outside of Toutencourt. Right before the Somme, I think it was.
“That’s what’s his name, Lieutenant…
“Lieutenant Herbert. Surprised you remember him. He got blown up a few days later.
“I remember father telling me about him…and that’s Colonel Blunt, right? He used to come for shooting parties before the war. You met him, Perseus.”
“Oh, yes; he complimented my flower border. Whatever happened to him?”
“Survived the Somme; died at Passchendaele,” said Newgate.
“Hard luck, that,” said Perseus.
“What about this one?” asked Eliazbeth, pointing to another photo that showed Newgate and a much younger man.
“Don’t suppose you ever heard of him; Sergeant Allenby. Good chap from Birmingham. Invalidated out with shell shock and cut his wrists in hospital.”
“Have all these people died, then?” asked Bill.
“Most of them,” said Newgate sadly. “They’re useful reminders in case I ever get the urge to go back to what is called civilization. I think your father and I, Elizabeth, were the only ones here who survived the war, and then of course that damned motorcar…except this group shot, of course; some of those boys made it, I think. Oh, and you of course.”
Perseus, who had been examining the group shot, turned eagerly to this last photo. He recognized the setting at once: the back porch at Sangral House. There were Newgate and Lord Darrow sitting in wicker chairs, and there, standing beside her father, was Elizabeth, just as he remembered her; all arms and legs and tangled hair, wearing a look of unrestrained happiness with her arm around her father, as though she wanted to show him off.
“I remember when that was taken,” she said. “Just before you all left for the war.”
Then it was only a few months after he had left. He looked at the girl in the photo and smiled to himself. That was how he remembered her; that radiantly expressive, hold-nothing-back kind of smile.
He had yet to see that look on her present face. His eyes shifted from her to the man beside her in the photograph and he thought he might understand why.
They were treated to a delightful supper on the veranda, while the usual afternoon downpour rattled outside. As they ate, Illingworth turned the conversation back to the purpose of their journey.
“Have you heard any rumor of these supposed strange beasts on the Noite, Colonel?”
Newgate leaned back in his chair and looked out on the misty river and the jungle beyond.
“One hears many strange stories out here,” he said. “The Noite holds a certain reputation among the natives. The Catauxi will not travel upon it, and the other tribes regard it as unlucky.”
“What for?” asked Elizabeth.
“It is said that the river marks the path to an evil place; a forbidden place. Some say it is only a part of the jungle, others say it is a great pit or cave in the earth. The legend goes that it is both the abode of monsters and the treasure house of the gods.”
Perseus flinched a little. They were getting very close to the mark. He wondered suddenly whether word of Professor Applegate’s expedition had reached Newgate’s ears, for surely they must have passed this way.
“Do they say what manner of ‘monsters’?” asked Illingworth.
“Cuangi is said to dwell there.”
The rain seemed momentarily to grow more intense and the sky grumbled with thunder.
“What is ‘Cuangi’?” Elizabeth asked.
“A native superstition,” he said. “Most of the tribes of the southern Amazon have one version of him or other. Some say he’s a spirit, others a great beast, and others something in between. The only common thread is that he’s monstrous and all-powerful.”
The rain rattled upon the roof, and a fork of lightning lit up the sky. The expedition members had fallen silent.
“And he’s said to dwell along the Noite?” asked Perseus.
“Yes, or in that forbidden place I mentioned. One version of the legend has him the guardian of the gods’ treasures. Sort of a demonic watchdog. There’s a story that goes along with it.”
“Oh, tell us,” said Elizabeth.
“Ah, well, I only know the one version,” he said. “But it goes something like this. There once was a great warrior of a certain tribe. He was chief and the mightiest hunter the world had ever seen. He was betrothed to the most beautiful maiden in the tribe and, as is said of many a promising young buck, had everything in his favor.
“One night, while performing the sacred rites, for he was also well-versed in the world of spirits, he received a vision. A great spirit spoke to him from the smoke of the ritual fire. The spirit said ‘thou art great, but shall yet be greater. Take thy betrothed and walk into the forest for seven days and seven nights. Then thou shalt come to a great wall. There thou shalt possess the treasures of the gods.’
“So the chief took his betrothed and walked through the jungle. They didn’t need to fear anything, as he was the greatest hunter in the world, and the jaguars and snakes all knew to fear him. He came to the great wall of stone, and in the wall was a gate, and at that gate stood mighty Cuangi. They bowed and made obeisance before him, and the chief said, ‘Oh, mighty Cuangi, it has been given to me to possess the treasures of the gods.’
“But Cuangi answered and said, ‘None may pass my way without an offering.’ So the chief asked what he would have, and Cuangi said, ‘If thou wouldst possess the treasure of the gods, then thy betrothed is the price. Give her to me, or go back the way ye came.’
“And so the chief took hold of his betrothed and gave her to Cuangi, who ate her in one bite…”
“Wait, he did what?” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“Not very nice, was it?” said Newgate, laughing. “Our friend is not a hero by English standards. But that is not the end of the story. After he had offered his betrothed to Cuangi, he was permitted to pass and to enter the great treasure house. There he outfitted himself the raiment of the gods, took their treasure for his own, and set off to claim his place among them.
“Only, when he tried to pass through the gate again, Cuangi again prevented him, saying that if he would pass, he must offer a second gift, equal to the first. But of course, he only had one betrothed and had already offered her. He protested and said that he had been promised possession of the gods’ treasures. ‘Yes,’ said Cuangi, ‘Thou wert promised to possess them. But thou dost possess them. Thou wert never promised to be permitted to bear them away.’
“And so, the great chief simply had to sit there in the god’s treasure house, bedecked in marks of power that he could never use to command and holding weapons he could never hunt with, until he grew old and rotted where he sat.”
“Overall,” said Perseus after a brief silence. “That is not an edifying story.”
“I’m glad the chief got his comeuppance at least,” said Elizabeth. “Serves him right!”
“Hear hear!” said Bill.
“Let us not be too harsh in judgment,” said Martin. “He merely did what most of us do.”
“What do you mean?” asked Bill. “You’re not saying most men would feed their fiancée to a monster to get his hands on a lot of treasure.”
“After a fashion, yes,” he answered. “Most of us are all-too quick to sacrifice the real good at hand for the mere promise of a better one.”
“I don’t know,” said Newgate. “I’m more inclined to think men too ready to cling to goods that they know, even it means they and others must suffer for it. We are altogether far too conservative a species.”
“I quite agree with you, Colonel,” said Illingworth. “Surely obscurantism is the greater danger. A certain continuation of the evils of the past must be outweighed by the possibility of a better future.”
“But the evils of the past are known and we can, in a sense, manage them,” Perseus argued. “The potential evils of future novelties must be unknown and, for that reason, must be worse.”
“I think there’s something to be said for both sides,” said Elizabeth. “We can’t stop all progress, even at the cost of losing something we love, but then, we can’t simply throw everything onto the chopping block, or else what would be the point? The trouble is knowing where to draw the line.”
“I certainly hope we all agree that it is somewhere on this side of ‘feeding beautiful young ladies to monsters’,” said Perseus.
“Only beautiful ones?” asked Elizabeth. “What about the plain young ladies?”
“As you say; we can’t stop all progress.”
She laughed, and so did Bill. Newgate, however, did not laugh. He was watching Perseus with a thoughtful expression.
After dinner he showed them their rooms. The trading post also functioned as an inn for the rare few visitors who came that way, and he had two small, but comfortable spare bedrooms made up. He insisted on giving up his own room for Elizabeth’s use and promised that he would be quite comfortable in his study, as he often slept there when he was obliged to work late.
Before they retired, however, he beckoned Elizabeth to join him on the now-empty veranda. She went willingly, not feeling the least bit sleepy. It was just after sunset, and the forest across the river was like a sharp black shadow against the pink sky, both doubled in the river. The rain had cleared and left the air cooler, and the insects sang from the shadows. Elizabeth once again felt a shiver of delight at the thought of where she was.
Then Newgate began without any preamble.
“Elizabeth, how much do you know of this man, Corbett?”
She looked at him in surprise.
“I’ve told you; he stayed with us for two years before the war.”
“Yes, I know that. Have you had any contact with him since?”
She flinched involuntarily at the reminder.
“No,” she said. “Not until a few weeks ago when we got this all together.”
“I was afraid of that,” he sighed. “Now listen; I am going say something that I know you are not going to like, but I owe it to you, and to the memory of your father. I know men like that; that sort of devil-may-care, vagabond type who travels the world doing this and that and never settling to any honest trade. You see them all the time around here, and there were more than a few the in the army. They’re devilishly charming and handy in a tight spot, but you cannot trust them. They always are after one thing and one thing only; money.”
Elizabeth looked at him in shock.
“Thank you for your concern,” she said slowly. “But you’re quite wrong about him. Perseus isn’t like that at all. He has knocked about the world a good deal, but he isn’t in it for money. Why, just to give you an idea what he’s like, he’s the boy I gave that Charles the First medal to, you remember? He still has it. You can’t tell me a mercenary personality wouldn’t have sold that thing long ago.”
“You’re sure he still has it, are you?” he said.
“I…yes, I’m quite sure. But besides that, he isn’t even charging us! Says he’ll take his salary upon delivery.”
“He is taking you into the jungle and not even asking to be paid?”
“Yes. So that shows, doesn’t it, that he’s acting in good faith. It isn’t the money he cares about; it’s the adventure.”
His face did not relax.
“Why would he need to make such a gesture of good faith?”
“Because we did, after all, only have his word for it. Like I told you, he happened to meet an old colonel from the empire days; Colonel Torres, I think it was, and learned about the Noite from him. So, to prove that he was telling the truth, he volunteered to defer payment until his story was verified.”
Newgate looked at her with something approaching pity.
“Elizabeth,” he said. “This station wasn’t started until after the empire.”
“Oh,” she said, taken a little off guard. “Then it must have been another site. What does it matter?”
“Didn’t you hear what I told you about the Noite, and the legends around it? The treasure house of the gods?”
She felt suddenly uncomfortable as she realized what he was getting at.
“You think that is what is after? But that’s just a legend, isn’t it?”
“All legends have a basis in truth,” he said. “In any case, I can much more readily believe him willing to go after a legendary treasure than I can believe a man like that would have such a disinterested love of science that he would propose and undertake a trip like this simply to discover a few new species of butterfly.”
“No, no,” said Elizabeth. She was beginning to feel faintly desperate as she realized the plausibility of his words and, what was worse, that she had no answer to them. “He…he said that he was only interested in an adventure; the chance to see one of the few unexplored places left on Earth.”
“Of course he would say that,” Newgate sighed. “Just the thing to get you hooked. Elizabeth, he is using you! Can’t you see that? He knows what kind of person you are, so he shows up with just the right story to peak your interest.”
“No, you don’t know him!” she said furiously. “He wouldn’t do that sort of thing. He…he can’t have changed that much.”
“How long has it been since you’ve seen him? Ten years? Fifteen?”
“Fourteen years is a lifetime, especially for the kind of life you say he’s been leading,” he said. “Please, Elizabeth, you know I’m not trying to make you unhappy; I’m only trying to keep you safe. I know something of men like that, and I do not think you ought to go off into the jungle with him.”
Elizabeth was too sensible not to see the reasonableness of his request. It was all horribly plausible, and against it she only had her own knowledge of and affection for a man whom she had not seen in many years. But though her head told her that Newgate was perfectly right, her heart recoiled from the idea that she couldn’t trust Perseus.
“No,” she said. “I don’t care what you say, I know him. And Perseus would never lie to me. I’d swear to that.”
“All right, all right,” sighed Newgate. “I won’t badger you. But please, Elizabeth, think hard about what you’re doing. This will be your last chance to turn back.”
“I most certainly will not turn back!” she said. She drew a deep breath, summoning all her self-control. “I know, Colonel, that you mean well, and thank you for you concern, but I…I know what I am doing.”
He shook his head.
“I hope so,” he said. “I really do.”
Elizabeth turned away from him. She felt something like hatred for Colonel Newgate; hatred of the fact that he had planted such seeds of doubt in her mind, which she could neither accept nor get rid of. She wanted badly to speak to Perseus, and she was just resolving to go seek him out when he stepped into the hall from the study.
“Elizabeth?” he said. “Can I speak with you a moment? In private?”
“Certainly,” she said, endeavoring to appear as herself. “I was just coming to see you myself.”
“I thought you might be,” he said.
They went into the store, which was closed up and deserted. Elizabeth waited for him to begin.
“I…I have something of a confession to make,” he said. “Which I probably ought to have made earlier, but I beg you to hear me out before you judge me.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. The suspicions so recently and unwilling sown in her mind sharpened.
“It isn’t easy to have a private conversation in a country where the windows are always open,” he said with a grimace. “I heard what Colonel Newgate and you were saying.”
“Oh!” she said, coloring. “I’m sorry; I hope you didn’t take offense or…”
“No, no, nothing like that,” he said hastily. “Newgate’s an astute man, and he clearly cares for you. My confession is that he is…he is not entirely wrong.”
There was a heavy silence.
“What are you talking about?”
He reached into his shirt and drew out a leather bundle. He unwrapped it and handed her the torn notebook.
“True Narrative of Certain Events in the Brazilian Jungle, by Robert Cooper,” she read aloud. “What is this?”
“An account of the Applegate expedition from 1910,” he answered. “Professor Applegate was a naturalist, much like Illingworth, and led a party to this region to study the Noite. They followed a native legend to a place they call the Forbidden Valley. The narrative breaks off before they describe what happened there, but Applegate and several others died, and the survivors considered what they found there to be so startling, so out of the ordinary that they kept it a secret from everyone, except for what is recorded in this book.”
She stared at him.
“Then…that is where you mean to go?”
“Where did you get this?”
“Off of a drunk old man I bumped into in Istanbul. Where he got it, I have no idea. He was being assaulted by a gang of toughs and Martin and I stepped in to try and help. The poor fellow was already done for – stabbed – but he lived long enough to give this to me in gratitude for the effort. I don’t suppose many people ever tried to help him. No longer after, on the way to England, a gentleman tried first to buy it off me, then to have it at gun point. I got the better of him, but from what he let slip I realized that there was some sort of gang after the book. I don’t know how they knew about it, or how they knew I had it, but they were clearly willing to do anything to get their hands on it. So I thought it best to keep its existence a secret and to not let our real destination be known, just in case they were on the lookout. I don’t mind being shot myself, but I hate having my friends shot at.”
She did not smile.
“Then, that story you told us, of the Brazilian colonel…”
“Was just a story,” he admitted. “I needed a plausible alternative that would take us in the same direction. But I tried to make it as true as possible; we are going to an undiscovered ecosystem off of the Noite. I only left out a few details about its nature and location. Probably would have been easier to convince Illingworth if I’d told him everything.”
“In short,” she said slowly. “You lied to me.”
The words landed like blows.
“I am sorry,” he said. “When I decided on that story, I had no idea you were the one I would telling it to. And only did it to try to keep you safe.”
“You might have told me afterwards,” she said. “You could have trusted me to keep quiet about it, couldn’t you?”
“Oh!” he said. “I…yes, I could have. I…I am afraid I didn’t think of that.”
She looked from him to the book in her hands, then back to him. Her face was very red and her eyes were hard and angry.
“Tell me honestly,” she said. “Do you still have that medal?”
He opened his mouth to say ‘yes,’ but the word seemed to stick in his throat.
“It’s safe,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“I…we spent the last money we had coming to London. I needed some to start putting this together, and I needed it quickly, owing to those people being after me…”
“You sold it.”
She said it in a quiet, almost a childlike voice. The realization of what he had done seemed to take everything from her.
“Pawned,” he said. “And I’m making him hold it for a year. It’s only temporary, and it’s as safe as can be. I swear to you, I will get it back…”
“What are you really after?” she snapped, cutting him off.
He blinked. “What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t drag us all out here for a mere lark,” she said. “You expect to find something in that valley, don’t you? That’s why you’re so set on it, isn’t it?”
There was a commanding tone in her voice. It was the voice of one who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. The cheerful, exuberant girl had faded, and the feudal lady of the manor had risen to the surface.
“Yes,” he admitted. He pointed to the wall. “But whatever he says, I am not using you, and I never would!”
“No, you’re just using my money, aren’t you?” she spat. “Like you used my medal.”
“It isn’t like that!”
He looked at her.
“Do you really think it is?”
A kind of painful cramp was growing in her heart as she met his gaze.
“A few minutes ago, I swore that you would never lie to me,” she said. “Yet here we are. So I don’t know what to think.”
They looked at each other for several minutes, both breathing rather hard.
“If you don’t think you can trust me,” he said. “Then it probably would be best if you were to return home. We are going to be going into very dangerous territory, and I would much prefer if you were not exposed to it.”
“First you lie to me, now you try to humiliate me,” she said. “Send me home to be jeered at for spending all this money and then running off when it gets difficult?”
Her vehemence took him off guard.
“I would rather have you embarrassed and safe than otherwise,” he said.
“I thank you for your concern,” she said. “Now are there any other lies you’d care to confess?”
“No,” he said. “But Elizabeth, you really ought to take Newgate’s advice and go home.”
“I appreciate that advice, Mr. Corbett,” she said. “And I thank you for at least telling me this now. I only wish that you had done so while there was still time for me to fire you!”
So saying, she turned and marched back into the house, slamming the door behind her. She fairly ran to her own room, threw herself down on the bed, and began to cry.