Chapter 7: The Climbing-Boy
BEFORE SHE WAS EVEN FULLY AWAKE, Peggy felt it assaulting her ears, boring into her head as if trying to pierce the innermost recesses of her brain.
What is that awful racket?
She opened her eyes and peered into the darkness. She felt hard stone against her cheek. The three of them – Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine – were lying on a concrete floor in a large, dimly-lit open space. Every corner was dominated by a sharp, metallic grinding noise.
A short distance away she could make out small human forms standing in front of large, lattice-like structures made up of complicated webs of bars and filaments. Within the webs, smaller objects were in constant motion – up and down, spinning around – in a kind of diabolical rhythm with the relentless grinding and screeching. As she blinked the sleep out of her eyes, it dawned on Peggy that what she was looking at was some kind of machine.
She sat up slowly and was reassured by the sensation of Gavi’s downy feathers pressing on her arm. The loon was not yet awake, but Peggy could see in the dim light that his body was twitching restlessly, unnerved by the noise going on around them. As she looked over towards Jackpine, sprawled out next to Gavi, he snapped awake and sat up, poised like a frightened animal.
“What’s happening? Where are we?” he shouted over the din.
“I don’t know,” Peggy shouted back. “It seems to be some kind of factory.”
As soon as she stood up she was engulfed by a wave of stifling heat. She drew a deep breath to steady herself and took a couple of steps closer to the nearest machine. Now she could see that it was a large frame of metal bars and pulleys, that the spinning objects were spools, the filaments were threads winding endlessly onto the spools from white balls of what appeared to be cotton. As Peggy cast her eyes around she now saw that she was standing at the end of a long row of these spinning machines, and that beyond them there were even more rows of machines, all moving in a synchronized rhythm. In front of each machine a small figure stood, catching and tying the threads, shifting the spools, moving its hands at breakneck speed to keep up with the relentless churning of the machine.
They were in some kind of textile factory, Peggy surmised. Not a modern factory, but an old-time cotton mill – by the looks of it, from at least a hundred years before her own time.
Peggy peered at the person standing in front of the nearest machine. Suddenly aware of another presence nearby, the figure turned away from the machine for a brief moment and looked back at Peggy.
Gazing at her was a child, a girl who could not have been more than seven or eight years old. She was barefoot, wearing only a loose shift with a ragged hem around the bottom.
Quickly, without missing a beat, the girl turned back to her work. As her tiny fingers worked the fast-moving bobbins, Peggy could see that the skin on them was reddened and raw. She looked down the row and realized all the workers were children, mostly girls and a few boys. None of them looked older than ten or eleven, all of them breathing the same dank, humid air, working in a near-frenzy to keep pace with the unforgiving spinning machines.
Peggy was startled by the angry growl of an adult voice, followed by a loud splash. She looked in the direction the commotion came from. A man was standing over one of the mill-girls. The child was dripping wet and whimpering as the man brandished a metal bucket over her head.
“That’s the third time today,” he snarled. “Don’t let me catch ya noddin’ off again.”
Peggy heard a low hissing sound and turned toward the girl at the nearby machine, who was staring back at her with a look of alarm.
“Ya better get to work!” the child said in a fierce whisper. “The slubber’s comin’ round this way!”
Before Peggy could respond, she was distracted by a loud wail piercing through the churning drone of the machines.
She whirled around to see Gavi, now more than wide awake and letting loose with a full-blown tremolo cry. Jackpine was frantically trying to shush him but it was no use. The cry was an involuntary reaction when the loon was distressed beyond words.
Peggy rushed over and gently but firmly wrapped her hand around the loon’s beak.
“It’s okay, Gavi,” she said. “The noise is just machines. We’re in some kind of factory. A cotton mill.”
Feeling the bird relax, Peggy withdrew her hand.
“Factory?” Gavi said in a perplexed tone. “What are we doing in a factory?”
“I wish I knew,” Peggy began, but stopped abruptly. Her back was to the machines now, and Jackpine was gesturing for her to look behind her.
She turned to see a man in a dirty wool jacket and black cap staring at the three of them. He had a leather strap wound around one hand and was smacking the free end of the strap against the other hand, as if he were getting ready to slap it against something. It was all the children at the machines could do to keep working, as they kept turning to watch, intensely curious about the intruders and what the man would do to them.
“What d’ya think you’re doin’?” the man snarled.
Before Peggy could answer, another man – the one she’d seen a moment ago pouring water over the sleepy mill-girl – raced over carrying a whip.
“Troublemakers,” he said to the first man.
“No,” Peggy began. “We don’t mean any trouble, we’re just . . .”
She was cut off by the thwack of the whip on the concrete floor just inches from where she stood.
“None of yer lip, girlie!” the man with the whip said. “We ain’t fools. We know your kind. Come to stir up the girls and muck up the machines, have ya?”
“We’ll show ya!”
As soon as Peggy opened her mouth to object, the whip snapped even closer to her. At the same time the first man walked past her towards Jackpine and Gavi. To her surprise the usually belligerent Jackpine didn’t raise a hand to challenge him. She realized he was trying his best to keep the loon out of the man’s sight, hoping his black feathers wouldn’t be noticed in the dim light of the mill. But it was no use. The red of Gavi’s eyes gleamed in the darkness.
“What’s this ya got here?”
“Nothing,” Jackpine said sullenly. “Just a bird I caught.”
“It’s a bird, all right. C’mere, Caleb,” he called to the other man. “Take a look at this creature.”
After casting a warning look at Peggy, Caleb strode over.
“Never seen the like of it,” he said. “What is it, some kind of fowl?”
“Looks like one of them New World birds,” the other replied. “I seen a picture one time.”
Caleb nodded and moved toward the quivering loon.
“Should I wring its neck?”
Before Gavi could burst forth with another tremolo, the other man held Caleb back.
“No!” he yelled. “Keep it alive. We’ll take it to London. There’s fine ladies who’ll pay plenty for hats with fancy bird feathers like this one.”
The men were so taken with Gavi they ignored Peggy and Jackpine. The two of them looked at one another. It would be easy, they knew, to make a break for it. They could bolt down the aisle and out the factory before Caleb and the other man could stop them. But there was no way the slow-moving loon would be able to keep up. They watched helplessly as Caleb scooped up the terrified Gavi and held him upside-down by the legs, as his wings flapped weakly through the air.
“Better find a cage for it,” said the other man. He turned back to the other two and pushed them along the aisle, slapping his strap threateningly to hurry them up.
“Out, out with ya!” he shouted.
As Peggy passed one machine, the girl who’d spoken to her earlier turned her way again.
“I warned ya,” the child said grimly. “I said the slubber was comin’.”
Now Peggy realized – too late – that she was talking about the foremen: Caleb and the man with the strap.
Once they were out of the factory, the man with the strap chased the two of them some distance down a dirt road. Finally he stopped, yelling after them.
“Don’t neither of ya show your face around here again!”
Then he turned and went back into the mill. After a short while they crept and hid in the trees on the riverbank, just downstream from the great water wheel which drove the spinning machines. Then there was nothing to do but wait and hope they could catch a glimpse of Gavi.
Why here? Why now? Peggy wondered. She’d gotten a good look around at the faces in the mill, but there was no trace of Mi anywhere. So why did they wake up in that grim pit of hell, where children worked their fingers to the bone and passed out from exhaustion? She thought briefly of Zak’s passion to help child rug workers, and how angry he’d be at the scene in the mill.
Jackpine seemed to pick up on her thoughts.
“What kind of place is this? Treating little kids like that? I wanted to whack those guys.”
“It’s good you didn’t. We’re lucky they let us go. They seem to think we were some kind of agitators.”
“I studied it in history this year. When the first big factories were built, there were people who fought against them – laborers and craftsmen put out of work by the new machines. Sometimes they formed roving bands who went from mill to mill smashing the machines.”
“I don’t blame them,” Jackpine said. “I wouldn’t mind taking an axe to that place myself.”
For an instant, their eyes met, but they quickly turned away from one other. It was the first time, Peggy realized, that she and Jackpine had been alone together since this whole crazy adventure started.
“How are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?” he said finally.
“I wish I knew,” Peggy sighed. “If only Molly were here. She always knows what to do in these situations.”
Jackpine was pointing beyond the trees. Caleb, the man with the whip, emerged from the mill carrying what looked like a rough-hewn chicken coop made of wood. Inside the cage was Gavi, craning his long neck, looking around frantically for some form of escape. They watched as Caleb strode firmly toward a carriage parked a short distance away. He opened the door and placed the cage inside it.
“What’s he doing?” Jackpine whispered.
“Maybe taking Gavi to London. He said something about selling him for feathers.”
Jackpine began to make a move.
“No!” Peggy grabbed his arm. “If he sees us he’ll just call out the others.”
“But we have to stop him.”
Caleb walked away from the carriage door and crossed over to the other side of the mill, where a horse was tied up at a post. He untied the horse, led it back and began harnessing it to the carriage.
Peggy and Jackpine both realized that, for a few moments at least, Caleb would be distracted and the stretch of road between their hiding place and the carriage would be largely hidden from his view.
Without a word they made their move. Swiftly, silently, they bounded out of the trees and scampered towards the carriage. But before they could reach the door they saw Caleb’s feet moving in front of the wheels, heading back to the side of the carriage. Instinctively they both crouched down at the back end, holding their breath, praying that Caleb wouldn’t walk around that far, that no one else would come out of the mill and see them.
To their great relief, he climbed up onto the driver’s seat. They could feel the horse shifting restlessly as Caleb prepared to take up the reins. There was nothing else to do but hoist themselves up onto the back of the carriage, and hold on for dear life.
Peggy lost track of time as they rode over the bumpy country road. When the carriage set out dusk was just coming on, and they travelled largely in darkness, passing through a number of villages. It was an effort to keep hanging on, but the closeness of Jackpine’s body took her mind off the strain in her own. They were so close their faces were nearly touching, and she could feel the rise and fall of his chest with each breath. With the rattling of the carriage and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the road, they could talk to one another as long as they kept their voices low.
“When we get to wherever we’re going,” Jackpine whispered, “we’re going to have to move fast. Surprise is all we’ve got going for us.”
They agreed that when the carriage stopped, they’d wait for Caleb to bring out the crate, then pounce. Jackpine would try to hold Caleb down while Peggy made off with Gavi in the cage.
“Sure I’ll run,” she told him. “But where to?”
“Anywhere. We’ll figure it out later. I’ll try to follow you.”
Peggy didn’t like the sound of “try”, but knew they had no choice.
After a few hours they grew exhausted from the strain of holding on, and took turns shaking one another to stay awake. Finally, in the pre-dawn light, they reached the outskirts of what was clearly a large city. The carriage threaded its way through narrow streets and pulled into what appeared to be a open-air marketplace.
There were rows of ramshackle stalls piled high with wheels of cheese and flats of eggs. Amid the clucking of chickens there was a bustle of activity, as sellers loaded bags of grain and produce off carts and deposited them in front of the stalls. Looking at all the food made Peggy ravenously hungry. Neither of them had eaten for hours.
As the carriage pulled to a stop she and Jackpine climbed down and crouched low behind one end, where Caleb wouldn’t see them as he dismounted the driver’s seat. After a few moments they heard the slubber greet one of the merchants as he opened the side door of the coach and pulled out the crate with Gavi inside.
“Looky here. Bet ya never seen one with feathers like this, eh?”
Peggy craned her neck to see around the corner of the carriage. As Caleb spoke he pulled at Gavi’s feathers, which made the poor loon recoil.
“What’s he taste like?” asked the man at the stall.
“Forget that, man!” Caleb fumed. “Don’t be a fool. These feathers alone’ll fetch ya half a crown. I can wring its neck right now and pluck a few to prove it to ya.”
Peggy and Jackpine looked at one another as Caleb pull the squawking Gavi out of the cage.
Count of three, Jackpine mouthed silently to her.
One, two . . .
Peggy took a deep breath.
“Three!” Jackpine’s voice thundered as the two of them leaped out from the back of the carriage. Startled by the noise, Caleb, who had his hands wrapped around Gavi’s neck, dropped the bird.
“What the . . .?!”
Gavi tumbled to the ground at Jackpine’s feet. In an instant he scooped the loon up and held him around the abdomen, just barely managing to avoid the merchant’s outstretched hand.
“Run!” Peggy screamed.
They both took off in a frantic race through the marketplace, toppling baskets of vegetables and poultry cages as they ran.
“You two come back here!” Caleb yelled as he took off after them.
Peggy looked behind to see one of the baskets overturning. It sent a spray of potatoes rolling through the narrow walkway, which nearly sent Caleb flying and allowed them to leave him further behind.
“Come on!” Jackpine shouted as he turned down a narrow laneway leading out of the market. He had Gavi firmly tucked under his arm, and the loon was making it easier for Jackpine to hold onto him by curling up into a ball.
They kept running down a series of cobblestone streets. It looked to Peggy like they were now well into the heart of the city, as they passed rows and rows of small shops – an apothecary, a cobbler’s shop, others that flew by so quickly she had no idea what they were. As they raced by, people in doorways stood and watched with bemused curiosity. To their relief, none of the onlookers made any move to stop them.
As they approached the bank of a river, they could still hear voices shouting in the distance behind them. Caleb had apparently enlisted some help in his pursuit. Peggy spied a stone bridge farther down the bank and yelled back to Jackpine.
They raced over the bridge and found themselves near a large open field on the edge of a marsh. On the other side of the field were scattered buildings and another network of narrow laneways that looked to be newer than the streets they’d just left on the other side of the bridge. They ran toward the built-up area and headed down one of the streets. To one side was a low building with a sign reading “The Dog and Duck”. Inside Peggy could see men sitting in clusters drinking beer. Farther along was a larger building marked “Lambeth Asylum for Girls”.
Weak from hunger, Peggy was growing exhausted from running, and now she felt a painful stitch in her right side. She slowed down to a jog.
“I have to stop,” she called to Jackpine.
He slowed down too, and gestured to her to duck into a narrow gap between a couple of buildings. They both stood, panting heavily for several minutes, listening for any sound of footsteps or the angry shouts of Caleb and his men. All was quiet.
Jackpine let go of Gavi and set him on his feet. The loon shook out his feathers lightly, but was otherwise still. For what felt like a long time, the three of them looked warily at one another, listening, waiting, but saying nothing.
Gavi almost let loose a tremolo wail at the shock of hearing an unfamiliar voice. But Peggy quickly clamped a hand over his beak. She looked out from their hiding place. In the laneway in front of them was a strange, unsettling sight: a figure in a hat, short pants and tattered shoes carrying a long-handled brush. It was the height of a child about eight or nine, but didn’t look like any human child she’d seen before. The only part of the creature that wasn’t covered with black soot was the whites of its eyeballs.
“I said, who’re you?” he said threateningly. “And what’s that bird ya got there?”
“It’s a loon,” Peggy answered, without thinking. “But what are….?” She paused a moment before finishing the question. “…..I mean, who are you?”
“Me? I’m a climbing-boy.”
“What’s a climbing-boy?” Peggy asked.
The soot-covered boy looked at her with disdain.
“Any idiot knows what climbing-boys are.”
“Well, I . . .” Peggy began but Jackpine suddenly gestured to her to be quiet.
They heard an angry voice coming from the other end of the laneway. It was Caleb.
“Look that way,” they heard him say. “I’ll go down here.”
Even as Caleb finished his sentence they could hear his voice moving closer to where they stood. For an instant Peggy caught the climbing-boy’s eye. She made a silent plea.
Don’t tell. Please don’t tell.
The climbing-boy turned away from Peggy’s gaze and began to make his way up the street. Peggy’s heart sank.
The voice of Caleb boomed out again.
“You! Climbing-boy! Seen a couple of ones a bit older than you? Carrying a strange black-and-white bird?”
Now we’re done for, Peggy thought.
For a moment the climbing-boy said nothing. Then he shook his head.
“Nope. Ain’t seen nothin’ like that.”
“You sure, boy?” Caleb asked warily. “Fella back there told me they come down this way.”
“Course I’m sure,” the boy responded. “I seen the whole street from that roof up there. I would’a knowed if some strangers come along with a bird like that.”
“Damn!” Caleb snarled. They could hear him thundering and swearing as he headed back up the street.
Peggy, Jackpine and Gavi stood stock-still a bit longer, till Caleb’s voice became a faint echo. Then Peggy ventured a peek out from between the buildings and looked up the laneway. No sign of Caleb.
No sign of the climbing-boy either. How had he disappeared so quickly? she wondered.
“We’ve got to get off the streets,” Jackpine whispered. “He’s going to keep combing this whole area until it’s too dark to see.”
“But where can we go?” Peggy whispered back.
Jackpine peered into a small window in the brick wall of the adjoining building.
“There’s nobody in here,” he said.
“Maybe now there isn’t,” Peggy objected. “What about when the owners come back?”
“We need a place to hide,” he insisted. “Just until it gets dark. We can’t risk being seen out here.”
They rounded the corner to the front door of the slender three-story building. Peggy noticed a plaque above the door saying “Hercules Buildings”, and below it, the number 13.
Great, she muttered to herself. That’s sure to bring us luck.
Quietly they slipped inside, Peggy carrying Gavi so they could move faster. From the outside it looked like an ordinary dwelling, but instead of a parlor, the front room was obviously a workshop of sorts, full of iron pots and shallow metal pans, with candles strung on ropes across the ceiling. At first Peggy thought it might be a chandler’s shop, but then she noticed other items – carving implements, rollers and pots of ink beside piles of paper and stacks of thick metal plates the color of burnished copper. In one corner stood what looked like a painting on an easel, covered by a cloth. On a long table-top sat a large black notebook, which lay open to reveal two pages, each covered almost to the very edge with a rich jumble of sketches, jottings, phrases and, in some cases, coherent lines of hand-written poetry. Farther down on the table something else caught Peggy’s eye.
“Look at this,” she called to Jackpine and Gavi.
It was a sheet of heavy paper, larger in dimension that the pages of the notebook, bearing what looked to be a work-in-progress, judging from the smell of the still-damp ink. In the center of the top was written Songs of Experience, with the number “37” in gold in the upper-right corner. On the page were several stanzas of a poem. An illustration beneath depicted a background of greyish buildings and a small figure in the centre, dressed in black overalls and cap, carrying a brush and a sack slung over one shoulder.
“Looks like our friend the climbing-boy,” Jackpine said.
Peggy began to read the lines on the page out loud.
“A little black thing among the snow,
Crying ‘weep, weep’ in notes of woe!
‘Where are thy father & mother? say?’
‘They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath
And smil’d among the winter’s snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.’”
She was about to start the final stanza when a deep voice startled them.
“Yes, that’s the way I like to hear my poems. Spoken out loud. Or better yet, sung!”
Chapter 8: An Immense World of Delight
BEFORE THEM STOOD A MAN, thickset, not very tall, with wide shoulders and a head that seemed a bit too big for his body. He looked to be somewhere in his late thirties, with a flat, pugnacious face and a receding hairline bounded by curls of reddish-blonde hair. As he looked at them with piercing eyes, Peggy noticed that his thick-fingered hands were stained with ink.
“Do any of you sing?”
The man spoke without the slightest trace of surprise, as if he were resuming a recently-interrupted conversation.
“Sing?” Peggy stammered.
“If I’m not wrong,” the man said, pointing at Gavi, “You have a magnificent singing voice.”
“As a matter of fact, that is true,” Gavi eagerly agreed. “However, it is not a personal talent but a characteristic of my species.”
“Which is . . .?”
“Why, Gavia Immer, of course,” Gavi replied with a note of pride in his voice.
“Ah, yes,” said the man. “That is the binomial system of classification, a recent and quite useful innovation. I have no problem with its creator, Mr. Carl Linneaus, and others of his ilk, who merely try to make order out of the glorious chaos of creation. The scientists who try to explain it all away by damnable reason – they’re the ones I can’t abide!”
Gavi was shocked by the man’s words.
“But reason is the very foundation of knowledge!” the loon objected.
Sensing one of Gavi’s lengthy treatises coming on, Peggy stepped in.
“Hold on a second,” she said to the man. “I don’t understand. Is this your workshop?”
“Indeed it is.”
“And you’re not upset to see us here? You’re not going to throw us out?”
“Throw you out? Why would I? Your friend Gavia Immer and I were just beginning an interesting philosophical discussion.”
“Don’t you want to know who we are?”
“I do, if you want to tell me.”
“You’re not afraid of us?” Peggy continued insistently. “We don’t look strange to you?”
“Child,” the man said, gently placing a hand on Peggy’s shoulder, “to one who has seen the things I have seen, nothing is strange.”
Peggy couldn’t believe it. This man seemed to accept their presence as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Company, Mr. Blake?”
They turned in the direction of the new voice. In the doorway which led to a hall stood a slight, brown-haired woman with dark eyes.
“So it seems, Mrs. Blake.”
“Then pray introduce our visitors.”
“I would certainly like to,” he said, flashing a mischievous grin, “if only I knew their names.”
Jackpine was the first to thrust out his hand.
“My name’s Jackpine. And this is Peggy.”
The man took Jackpine’s outstretched hand and nodded to Peggy.
“I am Gavi, short for Gavia Immer, which has already been mentioned. And you are …?”
“My name is William Blake,” the man responded. “And this is my wife Catherine.”
Peggy was startled at the mention of the name.
“William Blake, you said?”
“Does that name mean something to you?” he asked.
“We saw it on the sheet over there.” Peggy replied, flustered.
“Yes, that’s my work,” he said. “I’m an engraver by trade.”
“And a poet,” added Jackpine.
“A poet, and a student of many things,” he agreed. “Which reminds me, Mr. Gavi. We must take up our discussion of science and reason over dinner. You are all staying to dinner?”
The three intruders looked at one another.
“I guess so,” said Peggy.
As they talked through dinner Peggy found her attention drifting. Once again, she found herself in a world from the past, a world peopled by figures from real life – in this case, the great English poet and artist William Blake. Peggy wondered all over again. Why? What had brought them here? What did this have to do with Mi?
The Blakes did not ask them any more about themselves, and Peggy thought it was best to say as little as possible. One could never know how people would react to being told they were in the presence of visitors from another time, another world altogether. Though with Will – as he said they should call him – sitting calmly discussing philosophy with an oversized loon, while his wife ladled out mutton stew, Peggy figured it would probably take quite a bit to faze him.
After Catherine excused herself to clean up in the kitchen, the conversation – which was mostly between Will and Gavi – continued to range over many subjects. Gavi was flabbergasted by Will’s dismissal of reason and logic.
“Those who put their faith in reason above all else are worshipping a false god,” their host stated firmly.
“But is not reason the very stuff of our thoughts?” Gavi objected.
“The soul of man is larger than that!” Will burst out. “Why would you want to confine yourself to the smallest part of your being?”
“But how else are we to gain understanding, to think our way through the problems of life?” Gavi persisted.
“By imagination!” Will practically thundered at them. “Open your immortal eyes!”
He pounded on the table.
“How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”
Gavi was speechless. His eyes widened, as if he were overcome with wonder at the enormity of this thought.
“I have. . .” he was finally able to get out the words, barely above a whisper. “. . . never considered that possiblity. And yet,” he paused a moment, as if amazed at what he was about to say. “I know beyond reason that what you say is true.”
“And that, my friend,” Will sat back with a satisfied smile on his face, “is the greater mind at work: the imagination, by which we can enter other realms and catch a glimpse of Eternity.”
Peggy’s interest was piqued by his words.
“What about these other realms? Have you seen them?”
“Yes,” Will replied. “But more often than not I am visited by them.”
“By spirits. I am frequently visited by my dear brother Robert, who passed away several years ago.”
They were quick to express their condolences, which Will accepted with a fond smile. Though his deep feeling for his brother was evident, he spoke of him matter-of-factly, as though visits from the dead were, for him at least, a not unusual occurrence.
“Ever since I was a boy I have had visions,” he continued. “Beginning when I was eight years old. One day I was walking on Peckham Rye by Dulwich Hill when I looked up and beheld a tree. On each branch sat an angel, their bright wings bespangling every bough like stars.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“Yes, that was my first mistake!” he laughed heartily. “I ran home to tell my parents, and narrowly avoided getting a thrashing from my father for telling lies.”
“But it was not a lie,” Gavi objected.
“Of course not,” Will agreed. “But I learned then that I must be careful when speaking of my visions. In fact, since then you’re the only ones I’ve told about the Tree of Angels, other than my wife, and a strange little sprite who passed through here only a short time ago.”
Peggy snapped to attention.
“A little sprite?”
“Yes, quite tiny,” he replied. “She just turned up late one night when I was alone here in the workroom. I was working on a painting over in that corner when I became aware of a presence in the room. I turned and a tiny creature stood there, looking at me. She had the most unusual voice – ethereal, yet rich and clear, like a kind of celestial flute.”
“Mi!” Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine exclaimed together.
“Yes! I did hear her call herself that,” Will said. “Though I thought that was just her child’s way of referring to herself, rather than her actual name. She said she was looking for a place called the Shining World. ‘But before I can enter the Shining World,’ she told me, ‘I must find the Tree of Good and Evil.’ ‘Then,’ I replied, ‘You have come to the right place.’ For I could see right away that she was an Innocent in search of Experience, a subject of which I have considerable knowledge.”
They explained to Will that Mi was from a realm called Notherland, where she was a singing spirit in the Northern Lights, or the RoryBory as it was known there.
“That explains the remarkable quality of her singing. But tell me more about this Notherland,” Will said with keen interest. “What kind of place is it?”
“Notherland was created by Peggy – by her imagination!” Gavi announced, beaming at her.
“Is that so?” Will said.
He looked at Peggy with a piercing stare that almost frightened her with its intensity. But before he could say anything else, Jackpine broke in.
“What about Mi? Where is she now?”
They weren’t surprised by Will’s reply, but their hearts sank nevertheless.
“I have no idea.”
As Will told it, Mi’s stay with him had been much the same as her time with the Pirate Queen. She’d watched intently, hovering around him “like a hummingbird,” as he put it.
“We had quite a time together. I told her many stories about what I call my mental travels, and about Angels and other spirits I have encountered. She was very taken with my vision on Peckham Rye. ‘Will I see the Angel Tree when I get to the Shining World?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘You will have to find out for yourself.’ Then, one day, she slipped away as mysteriously as she’d come.”
It seemed to Peggy that he had more thoughts on the subject of Mi and she wanted to press him further. But at that point his wife, who had returned to the room and listened calmly to the whole rather bizarre exchange about Mi, announced firmly that “Mr. Blake”, as she preferred to call him, was tired and needed to rest up for his labors in the workshop tomorrow.
She made up a sleeping area for them in the room at the back of the main floor, which she said was “Mr. Blake’s sketching room”, a bright and airy space with a door that opened out onto a garden lush with grapevines and fig trees.
The three of them were exhausted after all they’d been through – the long carriage ride, the mad dash through the streets of London – but they were excited, almost giddy as they traded impressions of their remarkable, eccentric host.
“William Blake was one of the great English poets,” Peggy told them.
“He must have been an amazing artist, too,” Jackpine declared. “Did you see the detail in those etchings? And it’s all gouged out of those metal sheets, like he’s chiselling into solid rock. Unbelievable!”
“And clearly, he is also a wise philosopher,” Gavi said. “Many talk of the life of the mind, but this man Blake lives it!.”
Eventually Jackpine nodded off to sleep while Peggy and Gavi continued mulling over the events of the day.
“I felt awful for you, trapped in that coop for so long,” she told him. “And when I saw that Caleb with his hands around your neck. . . It must have been terrifying for you.”
“Yes,” the loon agreed. “And exhilarating!”
“Even in my life as a physical loon, I had never felt such an extreme sense of danger. It is true what they say: the prospect of annihilation clears the mind. And to be here, now, with someone of such great intellectual powers. I am going to learn things from William Blake. I can feel it. I have found my mentor!”
Finally Gavi, too, nodded off. Watching the two of them sleep soundly, Peggy felt the lonely burden of responsibility that seemed to be her regular companion on these journeys. Though still smarting from Molly’s decision to stay with Grania, Peggy felt her absence acutely. She realized how much she relied on Molly’s boundless drive and courage to keep her own spirits up. It was all well and good for them to spend time here in the great man’s workshop. But how were they going to find Mi?
Why is it always up to me to hold everything together? she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
She was poised at the rim of a great Hole, a dark pit with smoky vapors like dry ice billowing out of its gaping mouth. She thought she could hear faint voices coming from deep inside the Hole – some pleading for release, some shouting with rage, some moaning in agony, some shrieking in a terror beyond words.
She knew those voices. She’d heard them once before, when she’d gone down into the Hole til she’d hit not just the bottom, but the Bottom Below the bottom. She’d barely gotten out alive that time. She wasn’t going down there again, not ever. She couldn’t help those poor tormented Souls. There was nothing she could do except walk away…….
A tiny voice rising out of the cacophony stopped her dead in her tracks.
There was no mistaking that voice. It was calling her name.
She turned away from the Hole and kept walking.
I can’t face it, she told herself. I can’t go down there again. I’m sorry, Mi. Forgive me.
Suddenly the face of the Creator herself appeared in her mind, and Mi had the odd sensation that Pay-Gee was hovering close by, yet at the same time she seemed far away, beyond all reach.
“Pay-Gee!” she cried out. “My Creator! Are you coming, Pay-Gee? I know you are! You must. Please come!”
Chapter 9: The Mental Traveller
A STRONG MORNING LIGHT jolted Peggy awake.
Where am I?
As she looked around the tiny room with its well-scrubbed stucco walls, with the door opening out into the garden, her brain slowly reassembled the jumbled pieces of the past day and night. She was in the house of William Blake, poet, engraver, thinker and certified “piece of work,” as Gavi, with his predilection for human turns of phrase, put it.
She didn’t feel rested at all. There was a vague ache in her temples and a knot in the pit of her stomach, as if she’d been dogged by some unnamed threat while she slept. There was no point trying to get back to sleep. Jackpine and Gavi were already up and gone, and she could see out the window that the sun was high in the sky.
There was a bustling in the next room. She went in to find Catherine ladling porridge into bowls.
“What time is it?” Peggy asked groggily.
“Near half-past ten,” replied Catherine, holding a steaming bowl of porridge out to her.
“I slept for more than ten hours?”
“You must have been tired from your travels,” Catherine replied in a soothing voice.
“Where are my friends?”
The other woman nodded toward the workroom at the front of the house. Peggy put down the porridge to let it cool and headed toward the workshop. She stood in the doorway, but for all the impression her entrance made, she might as well have been invisible.
At one end of the long work table in the centre of the room, Jackpine was bent over a sheet of copper plate, methodically gouging out a pattern on the hard surface. At the other end, Will sat on a stool, with Gavi nestled at his feet. Every few moments the poet would read aloud in a firm, confident tone from the manuscript sitting on the table.
“The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
After each statement Gavi let out a slight trill, like an aborted tremolo call, as if he could only grasp the deep meaning of each statement with great effort. Meanwhile, totally absorbed in his work on the copper plate, Jackpine completely ignored the other two.
“What is now proved was once only imagined.”
“Yes!” the loon burst out, unable to contain himself. “That is true! Why have I never understood these things before?”
Will read on.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Gavi fell silent again, pondering the immensity of Will’s latest declaration. There was a kind of quiet electricity in the room, an almost sacred air that Peggy was reluctant to intrude upon.
Finally Will looked her way. A mischievous grin came over his face.
“Ah! There she is. Our friend, old sleepy-head.”
How original, Peggy thought as she approached them. So much for profound philosophical musings.
“Peggy, Will has been sharing some of his recent writings with me. He calls them . . .” Gavi paused and looked over at Will to make sure he had the title right. “. . . Proverbs of Hell.”
“Oh,” was all Peggy could think to reply.
The look of rapt attention on Gavi’s face turned to a slight scowl. He was clearly not pleased with what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm on Peggy’s part. But that wasn’t it at all. In fact, she too was taken with the mysterious beauty of Will’s words and was about to tell him so. But at Gavi’s mention of the word “hell” a shiver went up her spine and a strong feeling of dread washed over her.
She shook her head, trying to rattle herself loose from the feeling. To distract herself she looked down the table, where Will was showing Jackpine the technique of etching designs onto the copper plate, which he called “laboring on the rock”.
“Next I’ll show you how to apply the ink, and once you’ve mastered that, we’ll move on to relief etching, which is a technique of my own invention.”
“This is amazing. I can’t tell you how much . . .” Jackpine groped for the words. “It’s like I’ve been looking for something like this all my life,” he practically shouted. “My ancestors carved images on rock. Now I can carve a design on this metal and print it. It’s like this is what I was meant to do.”
Peggy looked at the image he was etching onto the plate. In the intricate web of lines and tendrils she could see the outline of the Flute Player.
Briefly they met one another’s gaze, and for the first time since they’d taken that plunge into the water by the petroglyphs, Peggy was certain she saw no trace of anger in his eyes.
As the day wore on Peggy felt restless, out of sorts. Gavi and Jackpine were completely caught up in their various pursuits with Will. All sense of urgency seemed to have gone out of their quest to find Mi. Neither of them had even mentioned her all day. Peggy decided to give them both a bit more time to explore their new interests.
She went in to see if Catherine needed any help in the kitchen. She hoped that immersing herself in household chores would provide some distraction. But as she punched down the bread dough Catherine set before her, it turned out to be anything but calming.
I don’t believe this, she muttered to herself. The women are stuck in the kitchen, while the men are out in the parlor making art and talking philosophy.
She almost said it out loud, but stopped herself, realizing that her frustration would only be baffling to a woman like Catherine. Here was another wife who, like Lady Jane Franklin, was totally devoted to her husband, and seemed completely content with her lot in life. But, as Peggy came to discover in her dealings with the mysterious Lady Jane, that subservience and contentment might be little more than an appearance. Was Catherine Blake really that much simpler a soul than her formidable husband?
Why, Peggy wondered, did they have no children? The house seemed like a largely self-contained world, in which everything revolved around Will’s moods. As Peggy had seen, he could be warm and jovial one moment, abrupt and cool the next. It never seemed like deliberate cruelty, she had to admit. It seemed rather, at those moments, that other people held no importance for him and, indeed, were an impediment to what was really important – his work, his art.
He and Catherine had clearly been married a long time. But were they truly happy together? Peggy couldn’t really decide. She tried to imagine them younger and in love, but it was difficult.
Is this what love always comes down to? she wondered.
“What about you?” she finally asked Catherine as they chopped onions and cabbages for the stewpot. “I see how much you help your husband with his printmaking and coloring. Do you ever make any art of your own?”
Catherine looked at Peggy with an expression of mild shock, then shook her head, tightening her lips into a thin line.
“There is room for only one artist in this house,” she said pointedly as she resumed chopping.
It was Peggy’s turn to be taken aback. She wasn’t at all surprised that Catherine might harbour some frustrations about life with with her mercurial, demanding husband. What she didn’t expect was that the good wife would express her feelings so baldly.
Unsure how to respond, Peggy offered up a vague expression of sympathy.
“I imagine living with a man like Will can be difficult at times.”
Catherine looked up at her again, and now it seemed to Peggy that a kind of fatigued melancholy crossed her face. Then, as if willing the feeling away, Catherine stood up and began to bustle around the kitchen.
“Not so difficult as with some husbands,” she finally said in a sprightly tone. “And, in truth, I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company.”
“How do you mean?” Peggy asked.
“He is always in Paradise,” Catherine replied.
She had to get out for a while, she decided – out of that house where everyone but her was so happily engaged in their activities.
Peggy walked out into the street and looked towards the bridge the three of them had crossed yesterday in their desperate escape from Caleb and his men. This was a part of the city of London, she knew. But the the great open marshy area full of ponds and rivulets that ran along the bank of the Thames River almost gave her the feeling of being in the countryside. In the field directly across from the Blakes’ was a somewhat seedy-looking music hall. She walked farther on up the street, turned the corner and found herself standing in front of the forbidding stone building she’d raced by the day before, the Lambeth Asylum for Girls. She peered in one window and saw rows of girls working at looms. It could have been a school – many of the girls were about Peggy’s own age, though some were quite a bit younger. She thought asylums were supposed to be for crazy people but there was nothing crazy or agitated about these girls, more an air of weary resignation. Still, unlike the children in the cavernous cotton mill, the girls at the looms could work at their own pace.
Peggy turned away and continued up the road lined with rows of narrow brick houses with low flat rooftops.
Then she saw him.
Just above her, on the roof of one of the row houses, stood a small, dark figure wearing a cap and wielding a long-handled brush. He was sitting astride a chimney, hands gripping the sides as he peered down into the cavity. Out of the chimney came billows of grey smoke.
It was the climbing-boy – the same one, she was fairly certain, who had helped them elude Caleb yesterday. Peggy was about to call up to him when, to her astonishment, he began to scramble feet first into the chimney cavity. She wanted to yell at him to stop, that he’d get burned or suffocate in the thick smoke. But she could see from the matter-of-fact way he eased his body into the cavity that entering a chimney with a live fire was an everyday occurrence for him. It looked terribly dangerous, but she wasn’t of this world, she told herself. There was no point interfering.
Still shaken by the sight of the climbing-boy, she turned away and began hurrying up the street when she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks.
The dream from last night!
She’d completely forgotten about it till that moment. There she was, standing at the edge of that great smoking pit listening to those unending shrieks of agony and terror, wanting to look away – the same way she wanted to get away from the sight of the climbing-boy descending into that inferno now. Wanting to run away, to put as much distance as she could between her and the voices. Then, hearing the familiar tiny voice calling her: “Pay-Gee! Are you coming, Pay-Gee?”
I ran away. Mi called out for me and I ran away from her. I left her in the Bottom Below.
It was only a dream, she told herself. But she knew perfectly well that in the quest to find Mi, dreams were not to be dismissed. They were the very stuff of the journey. And now she’d had a dream which seemed to be telling her that Mi was trapped with the other doomed Souls in the one place, in all these many universes, that she desperately hoped she’d never to have to go down into again.
So she’d abandoned Mi and turned away from the very task she’d set out to do.
She raced back to the Blakes’and burst into the workroom. Gavi, Will and Jackpine all looked up, startled at her sudden entrance.
“I think I know where Mi is.”
“You do?” Gavi’s voice was jubilant. “Where?”
“In the Hole at the Pole.”
Jackpine shook his head vehemently.
“That’s impossible,” he said. “The walls of the Hole collapsed into one another. We all saw it happen. You were there.”
Gavi nodded in agreement.
“The Hole at the Pole,” he said with finality, “no longer exists.”
“Maybe not in Notherland,” Peggy replied. “But I saw it in a dream last night – the same grey smoke, the same awful shrieking and crying. I heard Mi calling me. She’s down there, I know it.”
“It is possible,” said Gavi with deliberation, “the Hole still exists in some other universe. And if that is so,” he paused a moment, reluctant to follow through on his train of thought. “Then it is also possible that the Nobodaddy exists there, too.”
Will suddenly spoke up.
“The Nobodaddy exists in all times and places.”
The other three looked at him, their mouths gaping in shock.
“You know about him?”
“Know about him?” Will said with a slight grin. “I created him!”
“You couldn’t have!” Peggy burst out.
“Why do you say that?” Will asked.
“Because,” Gavi sputtered. “The Nobodaddy is a creature of my world, Notherland. And the Creator of Notherland and everything in it stands right here before you.”
The loon dramatically waved one of his large black wings toward Peggy.
Now Will threw his head back and laughed heartily.
“You!” he nearly shouted. “That is excellent!”
They looked at one another in bewilderment.
“You are laughing at us, Mr. Blake,” Gavi said in a tone of deep hurt. “You doubt the truth of what I am saying.”
“Not at all!” said Will, collecting himself. “If you say that Peggy here created the Nobodaddy, I believe you.”
“But that is completely contrary to what you said only a moment ago: that you created the Nobodaddy. Which is it?”
A scowl crossed Will’s face.
“Which, you say? Neither! Both! Good, evil, love, hate! Is your mind still so small that you cannot grasp the fundamental truth I have been trying to teach you since you arrived here?”
He glared at Gavi, who was now mostly thoroughly unnerved. Finally the loon spoke up in a timid voice.
“What truth is that?”
“That without contraries,” Will said emphatically. “There is no progression!”
Once Will had explained himself a bit more thoroughly, it was as though a light bulb went on in Gavi’s brain.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “It all makes perfect sense now.”
“All things exist in the imagination,” Will had told them, “and humans – indeed, all sentient creatures,” he had hastily added for Gavi’s benefit, “simply draw on it, like a vast pool, for their ideas and inspiration. Within the realm of the imagination dwell certain beings who are not individuals but larger forces to whom I have given the name ‘Eternals.’ These Eternals emerge out of the great fount of the imagination and appear in many guises, under many names, in different times and places.”
As he spoke, Peggy was struck by how his views coincided with her own experience with Lady Jane Franklin the previous year. Lady Jane had even referred to herself as an Eternal and upon her farewell had spoken of “diving back into the Great Pool of Existence”.
Now Peggy fully explained to Will how she had created her own imaginary world called Notherland, populated by singing spirits called Nordlings who lived in the Northern Lights. How one day she and the Nordlings had pretended they were being chased by a monster, whom Peggy said was “Nobody” but that by a slip of her tongue came as “Nobodaddy.” How as a fifteen-year-old she once again found herself in Notherland, to discover that their made-up monster had become real, a demonic force stalking and abducting the Nordlings and draining Notherland of its light, the very source of its existence. How she, her beloved doll Molly, Gavi, and Jackpine had travelled to the Nobodaddy’s realm, the Hole at the Pole, and how she alone had descended into its dark core, the Bottom Below, to do battle with the Nobodaddy. How she had freed the Nordlings and, with their help, a whole slew of other tortured beings whose souls had been stolen by the Nobodaddy. And how, in his humiliation and defeat, the Nobodaddy had grown smaller and smaller, shrinking down into ultimate nothingness, reverting to his original, essential self: Nobody.
“And now you know that he was only one manifestation of this entity you called the Nobodaddy,” said Will. “He is the squelcher, the oppressor, the one who destroys what he cannot own or control. He will come again – he always does. But when he comes` you may not recognize him at first. He will be in a new guise, with a new name. In truth,” he concluded, “I have been considering giving him a different name myself.”
“You have? Why?”
“Lately I have come to see more clearly how he uses the mind to control others, how he twists and perverts their natural impulses. The name Nobodaddy comes, for me as it did for you, from the mind of a child. Now I need to find a new name, that expresses this perversion of Reason. But I haven’t found it yet.”
Just then Catherine came in and announced that supper was ready. They ate heartily, but with little conversation, as if for the time being they were all talked out. No one wanted to bring up the subject that was on all their minds: they now had a better sense of where Mi might be, but still no idea of how to get there, or what to do if they found her.
After supper Will wanted to sing some songs, and launched into a hymn which, he said, he’d been reminded of during Mi’s time with him. After informing them that the lyrics were drawn from the words of the twenty-fourth Psalm, he began in a deep, rich voice:
“Rejoice ye Shining Worlds on high,
Behold the King of Glory nigh!
Ye shall enjoy the blissful sight
And dwell in everlasting light.”
“Your turn, said Will vigorously after he’d finished the hymn. “Each one of you must give us all a song!”
Gavi did his tremolo, which delighted Will and Catherine no end. Jackpine said he had a terrible singing voice, a notion that Will dismissed as nonsense.
“The human voice is beautiful in all its manifestations. But I’ll let you off for now. And now, Peggy the Creator, what do you have for us?”
“I’ve got one I learned years ago at summer camp,” she replied. “Your story about the Angel Tree reminded me of it.”
“All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me.”
After that Will announced he would sing another, one of his own creations:
“Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:
‘Pipe a song about a Lamb!’
So I piped with merry cheer
‘Piper, pipe that song again;’
So I piped: he wept to hear.
‘Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read.’
So he vanish’d from my sight,
And I pluck’d a hollow reed,
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.”
They all clapped enthusiastically when he finished. Then Will got up and went out of the room briefly. When he returned he was carrying a long wooden case.
“Now, instead of talk about piping,” he said, “we will hear some.”
He opened the case and held it out to Peggy.
“Jackpine tells me that you are the Flute Player.”
Inside was a beautifully carved wooden flute. She took it out and looked at it. It was a simpler version of the more modern silver flute she was accustomed to, but the fingering and the holes were basically the same.
She lifted it tentatively to her lips. It felt awkward at first. She hadn’t played in nearly a year, and no tune sprang to mind. Then, spontaneously, she began to play, by ear, Will’s melody, the one he’d just finished singing.
His face lit up with joy. He stood up, took his wife in his arms and began to dance with her around the small room.
Watching them, Peggy fought to hide the fact that tears had come to her eyes and were beginning to stream down her cheeks.
Music reached into her soul like nothing else. So why was she always neglecting it, shunting it aside, as if it didn’t matter?
They sang and danced a while longer, but the intensity of the past twenty-four hours began to wear on them all. It was sensible Catherine who finally announced that the hour was late. Gavi and Jackpine began making their way to the back room where they’d slept the previous night, but Will motioned Peggy to come into the workroom with him.
“I have something I want to show you.”
She followed him to the far corner of the room. There was an easel standing there, the one she’d noticed when they first arrived with a cover draped over it. Will took one edge of the fabric and lifted it to reveal a large, nearly-finished painting.
Peggy nearly gasped out loud at what she saw.
On the left of the frame was a large, forbidding figure with its long arms outstretched, and what looked like a shackle on one leg. On its back was a huge, billowing red cape with folds that looked like tongues of fire. On the right, standing before a blazing sun low on the horizon, was a slightly smaller figure holding a naked infant in his arms. The child, seen only from the back, was looking over its shoulder fearfully at the monstrous creature in the red cape, stretching its arms away as if trying to avoid his grasp. The most singular and, to Peggy, unsettling feature of the painting was the blank, haunted gaze of the red-caped figure, whose eyes looked almost empty in their sockets.
Stunned by what she saw, all Peggy could think of to say was “I didn’t know you did paintings, too.”
Will nodded, and turned to her with a piercing look.
“Do you know who these creatures are?”
She shook her head.
“They are Good and Evil Angels, fighting for possession of a Child.”
He seemed to be expecting her to say something.
“It’s . . . beautiful.”
He pulled on the drape and flung it onto the floor impatiently.
“Beautiful? Is that all you have to say?”
“I was only . . .”
“You were being polite, saying what you thought was expected to mask your true reaction, which is awe and terror.”
Peggy was taken aback and could only nod in agreement.
“Politeness and civility will do you no good when you look into the eyes of Evil.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“This is the painting I was working on when your little Nordling first came to me.”
Will put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her face so close to the canvas her nose was almost touching it.
“Remember that look!” he commanded, pointing to the red-caped figure. “So you will recognize it when you see it again.”
She felt a surge of fury run through her as he loosened his grip. But she said nothing as he picked up the drape and wordlessly covered the painting again. As they started to leave the workroom, he paused in the doorway and turned to her.
“I know you’re angry with me. I’m sorry that I’ve upset you.”
Peggy was astonished at the rush of words that came out of her mouth in reply.
“You dote on Gavi and Jackpine, but you never have any time for me.”
“That’s because I am teaching them what they need to know. You, I have nothing to teach.”
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“Everything you could learn from me you already know,” Will replied. “You have retained the gift of Vision, which all children have, but most lose as they grow older. You are a Mental Traveller, the one Jackpine’s people call the Flute Player, one who has the ability to call new worlds into existence.”
“Great. I have an active imagination. A lot of good it’s done me.”
Will’s face clouded. For a moment he looked like he wanted to slap her.
“Never belittle your gift!” he said urgently. “This world you see around you is a pale reflection of the true reality which resides in the world of the imagination.”
His passion for his beliefs was almost frightening to Peggy at that moment.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “It’s just that nobody else ever thought there was anything special about me.”
A look of deep, sorrowful warmth came into his eyes.
“It is very difficult to believe in yourself in the face of indifference. Believe me, I know. We’re alike, you and I, even more than I realized. We have no wealth, no advantages, no one paving the way for us. And that is why we’re driven to create new worlds.”
Peggy looked at him curiously.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because we must create ourselves, too.”
How does he know?
Peggy struggled to compose herself as she made her way to the back room. She’d been near tears a few moments before, as Will had laid a hand gently on her cheek and bade her goodnight. How, she wondered, was this man, whom she barely knew, able to reach into her soul and touch her at her point of deepest need – a need that, until that moment, she hadn’t even acknowledged to herself?
Still, what use was it to have someone tell her that she was special – even someone like William Blake? Back in Notherland, here on this journey through these other worlds, she was special – she was the Creator. But once it was all over she would have to return to her other life. Her ordinary life, where no one, it seemed, thought there was anything the least bit remarkable about her.
Gavi and Jackpine were waiting up for her in the back room. As soon as she walked through the door, Gavi knew that something in her encounter with Will had stirred up her emotions. He could tell, without asking, that she had made some kind of decision.
“We’re going tonight?” he asked her.
“I don’t know exactly where,” she said. “All I know is that we’re looking for an evil Angel.”
“Then it must be done.”
They were all silent for a moment.
“I cannot deny,” said Gavi, “that I have some regrets about leaving. Never again will I have the opportunity to learn from a mind as vast as that of William Blake. But nothing is more important than finding our precious Mi.”
Finally the three of them prepared to go to sleep. Peggy lay in the darkened room, listening to the light whistle of Gavi’s snore. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Jackpine’s eyes were wide open. He was restless too.
She rolled over and faced him.
“You don’t really want to go yet either, do you?”
He shook his head.
“That’s why I could understand what Molly was saying back on the ship,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been searching for something all my life, too. The whole time I worked at the petroglyph site I felt there was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what it was. Now, working with Will, I’ve found it. He said if I stayed a while longer, he’d take me on as his apprentice. Do you know what that would mean for me?”
To her utter astonishment, Jackpine seized her hand and squeezed it hard for a moment, sending ripples of excitement through her body.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “And maybe you should . . .”
“No.” He put his fingers lightly over her lips. “Don’t say it. It can’t happen. I can’t stay here. This isn’t my world. And like Gavi says, there’s nothing more important than finding Mi.”
He fell silent for a moment, then suddenly tightened his grip on her hand.
“I want to thank you,” he burst out, looking at her with an intense gaze.
“Thank me? For what?”
“For bringing me here. Because of you, I’ve found the thing I’m meant to do with my life. I know I haven’t exactly been the easiest person to be around. I just want you to know I think you’re a really amazing person. I wish we could . . .”
He paused a moment.
“What?” said Peggy.
“Nothing. It’s time we got some sleep.”
He dropped her hand and she turned away, her head a jumble of thoughts. What did he want to say? Why had he stopped himself?
Is he thinking about that girl back at the band office?
There was no point torturing herself with questions. Nothing was ever going to happen between her and Jackpine. She was just going to have to force herself to get over him.
As she lay down she rolled over to face him once more.
“Good-night, Jackpine – Gary.” she said.
For the second time that night he did something that took her completely aback.
He leaned over and touched his lips to hers.
As he lay back down, he slid his hand around hers again. This time he didn’t let go.
Lying beside him in the dark, Peggy felt a deep happiness, a profound sense of being cared for that enveloped her the way the wings of the Angel statue in Green Echo Park once had.
But now that she finally had him so close, she knew one thing for certain: She would have to leave him again.
Because there was nothing more important than finding Mi.
You will complete your apprenticeship, she said silently to Jackpine. Looking over at Gavi, she thought, You will stay and learn from the Master.
She’d have to leave them behind. This part of the journey would have to be hers alone. And though it made her sick with anxiety, she understood without a shred of doubt that she had to go back to her dream of the night before. But this time she would not – must not – walk away.
She held in her mind the sight of the climbing-boy as he descended the narrow, suffocating darkness of the chimney.
This time, she told herself, I’m going down.