“Tell an ymbryne,” Enoch muttered. “Doesn’t she realize that we saved them?”
Miss Peregrine overheard him. “Yes, Enoch. You were brilliant, all of you. And you’ve grown up remarkably. But even grown-ups have elders who know better.”
“Yes, miss,” he said, chastened.
Afterward I asked Miss Peregrine if she thought Bentham had planned to betray us from the beginning.
“My brother was an opportunist above all else,” she said. “I think part of him did want to do the right thing, and when he helped you and Miss Bloom, he did so genuinely. But all along he’d been making preparations to betray us, in case that turned out to be advantageous for him. And when I told him where to stuff it, he decided that it was.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Miss P,” said Emma. “After what he did to Abe, I wouldn’t have forgiven him, either.”
“Still, I could have been kinder.” She frowned, her eyes wandering. “Sibling relationships can be complex. I wonder, sometimes, if my own actions had some bearing upon the paths my brothers chose. Could I have been a better sister to them? Perhaps, as a young ymbryne, I was too focused on myself.”
I said, “Miss Peregrine, that’s”—and then stopped myself from using the word ridiculous, because I’d never had a brother or sister, and maybe it wasn’t.
* * *
Later we took Miss Peregrine and some of the ymbrynes down to the basement to show them the heart of Bentham’s Panloopticon machine. I could feel my hollow inside the battery chamber, weak but alive. I felt awful for it and asked if I could take it out, but Miss Peregrine said that for now they needed the machine working. Having so many loops accessible under one roof would allow them to spread news of our victory quickly throughout peculiardom, to assess the damage done by the wights and to begin rebuilding.
“I hope you understand, Mr. Portman,” said Miss Peregrine.
“I do …”
“Jacob has a soft spot for that hollow,” Emma said.
“Well,” I said, a little embarrassed. “He was my first.”
Miss Peregrine looked at me strangely but promised she’d do what she could.
The bite wound across my stomach was becoming too unbearable to ignore, so Emma and I joined the line to see Mother Dust, which snaked out of her makeshift clinic in the kitchen and down the hall. It was amazing to watch person after person hobble in, battered and bruised, nursing a broken toe or a mild concussion—or in Miss Avocet’s case, a bullet from Caul’s antique pistol lodged in her shoulder—only to stride out a few minutes later looking better than new. In fact, they were looking so good that Miss Peregrine pulled Reynaldo aside and asked him to remind Mother Dust that she was not a renewable resource, and not to waste herself on minor wounds that would heal just fine on their own.
“I tried to tell her myself,” he replied, “but she’s a perfectionist. She won’t listen to me.”
So Miss Peregrine went into the kitchen to have a word with Mother Dust in person. She came out again five minutes later looking sheepish, several cuts on her face having disappeared and her arm, which hadn’t hung straight since Caul had slammed her into that cavern wall, swinging freely at her side. “What a stubborn woman!” she exclaimed.
When it was my turn to go in and see her, I almost refused treatment—she only had a thumb and forefinger left on her good hand. But she took one look at the zagging, blood-encrusted cuts across my belly and practically shoved me onto the cot they’d set up by the sink. The bite was becoming infected, she told me through Reynaldo. Hollow teeth were crawling with nasty bacteria, and left untreated I would get very sick. So I relented. Mother Dust sprinkled her powder across my torso, and in a few minutes I was feeling much improved.
Before I left, I tried to tell her again how much her sacrifice had meant, and how the piece of herself she’d given to me had saved us. “Really, without that finger, I never would’ve been able to—”
But she turned away as soon as I started talking, as if the words thank you burned her ears.
Reynaldo hurried me out. “I’m sorry, Mother Dust has many other patients to see.”
Emma met me in the hall. “You look marvelous!” she said. “Thank the birds, I was really starting to worry about that bite …”
“Be sure and tell her about your ears,” I said.
“Your ears,” I said louder, pointing to them. Emma’s ears hadn’t stopped ringing since the library. Because she’d had to keep her hands aflame to light our way as we escaped, she hadn’t been able to block out the terrific noise—which, I worried, had literally been deafening. “Just don’t mention the finger!”
“The finger!” I said, holding up my finger. “She’s very touchy about it. No pun intended …”
I shrugged. “No idea.”
Emma went in. Three minutes later she came out snapping her fingers by her ears. “Amazing!” she said. “Clear as a bell.”
“Thank goodness,” I said. “Shouting is no fun.”
“Ha. I mentioned the finger, by the way.”
“I was curious.”
“Her hands started shaking. Then she mumbled something Reynaldo wouldn’t translate, and he practically chased me out.”