A set of hands grabbed him from behind. Vesper twisted his body around. He dug his elbow into the attacker’s neck and raised his arquebus high.
With a grunt, he brought the butt down hard. The attacker tried to duck away, but the gun caught his shoulder. Vesper could see him now — slender, dressed in black, including a mask that covered most of the face.
Lifting his foot, he gave the thief a kick.
With a cry, the black-garbed figure fell over the side. His gloved fingers gripped the railing, and he struggled to keep his feet off the swift-moving ground.
Vesper caught his breath. With a smile, he pinched the gloved hand’s pinkie and lifted it off the railing. “This little piggy went to market …”
He flicked the next finger off, and the attacker sank lower.
Now the bandit’s feet were scraping across the roots and ruts. He let out an odd, high-pitched scream — almost a woman’s voice.
The carriage bounced violently again. Vesper flew backward and felt the small of his back hit the joint of the carriage frame. He clenched his teeth with the pain.
The fun was over.
He lifted the arquebus and pointed it at the intruder’s head, which was fast sinking over the edge of the carriage. Releasing the shuttlecock, he placed his finger on the trigger.
A deafening crack split the air. Vesper felt the recoil of the firearm, the smell of gunpowder. But his shot had gone off course. He rose into the air and then smacked back down sharply. The carriage was careening side to side, its wheels tilting inward at the top, wobbling.
“The axle!” the driver shouted. “She’s splitting, milord!”
On the edge of the carriage, Vesper caught a glimpse of the intruder’s fingers, struggling to regain a hold. This bandit had dismaying agility and strength.
Forget him, he can’t hold on forever, Vesper scolded himself. He caught a glimpse of Hargrove. He had to get the ring from that fool and then jump off before the carriage smashed to splinters. He dove into the cabin, reaching into the pockets of the unconscious valet. Where did he hide it?
There. His money belt. Vesper ripped it open and pulled out the golden prize.
With a wild, triumphant smile, he sat up and held it high. There was enough light to see a string of tiny symbols.
Holding tight to the ring, he scrambled toward the front of the carriage. He couldn’t keep his footing. The wheels were slanting, the carriage bottom scraping the ground. In a moment the axle would split in two. The driver’s seat was already empty. So much for loyalty.
As Vesper prepared to jump, he saw a movement beneath him. He tried to look down, but his feet lifted off the surface. He was flying.
His vision filled with the trunk of a thick oak tree, racing closer. He drew his arms in for protection. And he screamed.
The last thing he saw before impact was a great black shadow.
“Help!” Master Winthrop cried out. It had begun to rain. He felt scared. Why had Father run ahead of him? It was dark and cold.
There. Just ahead. He could see Father in his cloak, crouching on the ground.
At that moment he was glad for the rain. Maybe it would disguise his crying. Father never liked it when he cried.
As he drew closer, he slowed. The carriage — the one that had nearly killed them — was scattered across the forest in pieces. It looked as if Father had taken the whole thing apart himself.
“Father?” he said.
Master Winthrop crept closer, his heart beating like a bunny rabbit’s. His father remained silent, his back to Winthrop. In the distance, two men had been tied to an old oak tree. He recognized old Hargrove, and the second man was dressed in a livery suit. There appeared to have been a third captive, but he had managed to escape, the ropes in a heap beside the tree.
“Are they … alive?” Winthrop said, placing his hand on his father’s shoulder.
But Luke Cahill’s eyes remained fixed on the ground in front of them. It had been smoothed. Etched deeply into the soil, in precise letters, was a message that made Winthrop’s blood run cold:
GRACE CAHILL 1942
1942. Most of the world was at war. In every corner of the globe, people were fighting and dying for one cause or another.
And what was Grace Cahill doing at this critical moment in her planet’s history?
Not diapers — nappies, she corrected herself, deftly fastening a large safety pin at each of the child’s small hips. Here in Europe they used the British term.
Baby Fiske burped loudly and tried to wiggle out of her grasp. Grace held on with a firm hand. Parts of the lawn at their family’s villa in Monte Carlo were so steeply sloped that a wayward toddler might roll all the way down the bluff and drop into the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.
She called him Kamikaze sometimes, after those crazy pilots from the other war — the one in the Pacific. Fiske always seemed to be looking for some great peril to hurl himself into. The little stinker was walking, so it had become nearly impossible to keep him out of trouble. He was a year old now. Grace could scarcely believe it had been that long since …
She had gotten good at fighting back tears. Her stomach, though, was harder to control. She recognized the feeling from her flying lessons — the sensation of hitting an air pocket and dropping five hundred feet in a matter of seconds. She experienced it on solid ground every time she thought of her mother.
“You have a healthy baby son,” the doctor had informed James Cahill, “but your wife …” He said more, but their father’s raw, tortured breathing filled in the blanks for Grace and her older sister, Beatrice. Father shed not a single tear over the death of his wife, but he was never the same. His reaction seemed more appropriate to a record-setting marathon run than an expression of grief — hyperventilation and drenching sweats.
Not that the Cahill daughters had much opportunity to develop an instinct for their father’s emotions. The time he had spent in Monte Carlo since the funeral could be measured in days, possibly hours. James Cahill was so devastated by the loss of his wife that he wouldn’t even look at his newborn son. He had turned to travel, as if trying to outrun his grief. The family had not heard from him in months, save for the occasional postcard from exotic locales — Rio de Janeiro, Baffin Island, Ulaanbaatar.
Baby Fiske yanked a croquet hoop out of the ground, and Grace barely managed to wrest it from his hands before he could plunge the ends into his eyes. How was it possible to love a child so deeply when he was the author of all the suffering in your life? His birth had cost Grace her mother. And it was costing Grace her father, too. The picture of James Cahill walking out the door was permanently imprinted on her retinas. He’d claimed to be leaving on business “for a few days.” But his vast pile of luggage — enough to require a second taxi to follow him to the airfield — revealed the lie. She could still feel Father’s arms around her as he said goodbye. He’d seemed like a drowning man holding on to a life preserver. Beatrice had noticed the same thing.
Then he was gone — without so much as a sideways glance at the bassinet that held his infant son.
Fiske reached for the croquet hoop, howling in frustration as Grace held it just beyond his grasp. She scooped him up in her arms and carried him, kicking and screaming, to the main house. Someday, she told herself, her brother would be a contributing member of society. Just as someday this war would be over, and someday Father would come home. That was what her life had become: too many somedays; not enough nows.
“How can you take care of that little beast?” came a sharp voice behind her.
Grace wheeled. She hadn’t seen Beatrice standing by the doorway.
“Someone has to,” Grace replied. “Giselle won’t. Leave it to Father to abandon us with a useless governess.”
“How dare you speak that way of Father?” Beatrice snapped. “Did you expect him to go on as if nothing happened? He lost his wife.”
“And we lost our mother,” Grace put in.
Beatrice pointed an accusing finger at her brother. “Thanks to him!”
Grace hugged Fiske, shielding him from the acid in their sister’s words. Could Beatrice blame a baby for what had happened to their mother? Or was it that the older girl was so miserable herself that she had to make everybody else miserable as well? The sisters had never been close. Yet since Edith Cahill’s death, the chasm between them had grown even wider.
Didn’t Beatrice see that Grace was suffering, too? That Grace would have given anything to reverse the events of the past year — to bring Mother back, to undo the pain that was tearing the family apart and had already driven Father away? The one thing she wouldn’t change was Fiske. How could Beatrice not love this bundle of giggles and mischief? Motherless — and basically fatherless, too. James Cahill hadn’t bothered to name his only son. He had left that to Beatrice. Fiske. It was Beatrice’s secret revenge on her brother, condemning him to a childhood of fistfights and taunting.
Grace ran her fingers through the little boy’s fine blond hair. This hellion was the only good thing that had happened to them in a long time.
Fiske repaid the sentiment with a kick to her stomach that sent her reeling. His feet were already pumping like pistons by the time she dropped him. Teetering unsteadily, he ran out the door to his croquet hoop and who knew what other dangers.
With an apologetic glance at her sister, Grace followed.
Sleep did not come easily to Grace these days. It had started with the bombing across the border in France. They were safe — Monaco was neutral so far, and even France had quieted under German occupation. But slumber continued to elude her.
Clad in her nightdress, she gazed out the window at the dark Mediterranean. From the nursery in the next room came the buzz saw of Fiske’s snoring. Another quality Beatrice found so endearing. Enlarged adenoids.
Grace frowned. There was a second sound — a low rumble — distinct from her brother’s.
An outboard motor? She remembered the times when pleasure craft dotted the sea, day and night. Now it was too dangerous. France was under German control, and Italy was only ten miles away.
Yet when she squinted into the gloom she could make out a small boat a few hundred yards offshore, almost directly opposite their villa. A weak flicker was coming from the wheelhouse.
Are their lights not working? Grace wondered. And now they’re lost in the dark?
During wartime, wandering off course could be a fatal mistake.
And then she recognized the pattern of short and long flashes. Her eyes widened. This was not the product of any guttering lamp. It was something she’d learned from her father several summers ago.
It took a moment to decipher the opening salvo of dots and dashes.
James Cahill! The message was for her father!
She scrambled for pencil and paper, converting the dots and dashes into language as she expertly transcribed the message. She’d been only seven or eight when he’d taught her, yet she didn’t miss a single letter. Beatrice received high praise and high marks from their private tutor, but Grace was the sister whose quick and nimble mind was capable of occasional brilliance. This wasn’t boasting; it was simply the truth.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com