Hollow City / Page 18

Page 18

“Being sat upon,” said Addison. “The hunter fashioned her horns into a chair.”

Emma nearly dropped the album. “That’s disgusting!”

“If that’s her,” said Enoch, tapping the photo, “then what’s buried here?”

“The chair,” said Addison. “What a pitiful waste of a peculiar life.”

“This burying ground is filled with stories like Magda’s,” Addison said. “Miss Wren meant this menagerie to be an ark, but gradually it’s become a tomb.”

“Like all our loops,” said Enoch. “Like peculiardom itself. A failed experiment.”

“ ‘This place is dying,’ Miss Wren often said.” Addison’s voice rose in imitation of her. “ ‘And I am nothing but the overseer of its long funeral!’ ”

Addison’s eyes glistened, remembering her, but just as quickly went hard again. “She was very theatrical.”

“Please don’t refer to our ymbryne in the past tense,” Deirdre said.

“Is,” he said. “Sorry. Is.”

“They hunted you,” said Emma, her voice wavering with emotion. “Stuffed you and put you in zoos.”

“Just like the hunters did in Cuthbert’s story,” said Olive.

“Yes,” said Addison. “Some truths are expressed best in the form of myth.”

“But there was no Cuthbert,” said Olive, beginning to understand. “No giant. Just a bird.”

“A very special bird,” said Deirdre.

“You’re worried about her,” I said.

“Of course we are,” said Addison. “To my knowledge, Miss Wren is the only remaining uncaptured ymbryne. When she heard that her kidnapped sisters had been spirited away to London, she flew off to render assistance without a moment’s thought for her own safety.”

“Nor ours,” Deirdre muttered.

“London?” said Emma. “Are you sure that’s where the kidnapped ymbrynes were taken?”

“Absolutely certain,” the dog replied. “Miss Wren has spies in the city—a certain flock of peculiar pigeons who watch everything and report back to her. Recently, several came to us in a state of terrible distress. They had it on good information that the ymbrynes were—and still are—being held in the punishment loops.”

Several of the children gasped, but I had no idea what the dog meant. “What’s a punishment loop?” I asked.

“They were designed to hold captured wights, hardened criminals, and the dangerously insane,” Millard explained. “They’re nothing like the loops we know. Nasty, nasty places.”

“And now it is the wights, and undoubtedly their hollows, who are guarding them,” said Addison.

“Good God!” exclaimed Horace. “Then it’s worse than we feared!”

“Are you joking?” said Enoch. “This is precisely the sort of thing I feared!”

“Whatever nefarious end the wights are seeking,” Addison said, “it’s clear that they need all the ymbrynes to accomplish it. Now only Miss Wren is left … brave, foolhardy Miss Wren … and who knows for how long!” Then he whimpered the way some dogs do during thunderstorms, tucking his ears back and lowering his head.

* * *

We went back to the shade tree and finished our meals, and when we were stuffed and couldn’t eat another bite, Bronwyn turned to Addison and said, “You know, Mister Dog, everything’s not quite as dire as you say.” Then she looked at Emma and raised her eyebrows, and this time Emma nodded.

“Is that so,” Addison replied.

“Yes, it is. In fact, I have something right here that may just cheer you up.”

“I rather doubt that,” the dog muttered, but he lifted his head from his paws to see what it was anyway.

Bronwyn opened her coat and said, “I’d like you to meet the second-to-last uncaptured ymbryne, Miss Alma Peregrine.” The bird poked her head out into the sunlight and blinked.

Now it was the animals’ turn to be amazed. Deirdre gasped and Grunt squealed and clapped his hands and the chickens flapped their useless wings.

“But we heard your loop was raided!” Addison said. “Your ymbryne stolen!”

“She was,” Emma said proudly, “but we stole her back!”

“In that case,” said Addison, bowing to Miss Peregrine, “it is a most extraordinary pleasure, madam. I am your servant. Should you require a place to change, I’ll happily show you to Miss Wren’s private quarters.”

“She can’t change,” said Bronwyn.

“What’s that?” said Addison. “Is she shy?”

“No,” said Bronwyn. “She’s stuck.”

The pipe dropped from Addison’s mouth. “Oh, no,” he said quietly. “Are you quite certain?”

“She’s been like this for two days now,” said Emma. “I think if she could change back, she would’ve done it by now.”

Addison shook the glasses from his face and peered at the bird, his eyes wide with concern. “May I examine her?” he asked.

“He’s a regular Doctor Dolittle,” said the emu-raffe. “Addie treats us all when we’re sick.”

Bronwyn lifted Miss Peregrine out of her coat and set the bird on the ground. “Just be careful of her hurt wing,” she said.

“Of course,” said Addison. He began by making a slow circle around the bird, studying her from every angle. Then he sniffed her head and wings with his big, wet nose. “Tell me what happened to her,” he said finally, “and when, and how. Tell me all of it.”

Emma recounted the whole story: how Miss Peregrine was kidnapped by Golan, how she nearly drowned in her cage in the ocean, how we’d rescued her from a submarine piloted by wights. The animals listened, rapt. When we’d finished, the dog took a moment to gather his thoughts, then delivered his diagnosis: “She’s been poisoned. I’m certain of it. Dosed with something that’s keeping her in bird form artificially.”

“Really?” said Emma. “How do you know?”

“To kidnap and transport ymbrynes is a dangerous business when they’re in human form and can perform their time-stopping tricks. As birds, however, their powers are very limited. This way, your mistress is compact, easily hidden … much less of a threat.” He looked at Miss Peregrine. “Did the wight who took you spray you with anything?” he asked her. “A liquid or a gas?”

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