“Uncle Gervais,” Ella hurried back over to the window seat, setting her papers down on the cushion.
“He ran off with a kitchen maid, didn’t he?” I had never met our great-uncle. He was gone before I was born, but stories of scandal were always shared. Live an exemplary or peaceful life and you died forgotten, but the blackguards and adventurers were whispered about for decades after their passing.
Centuries even. I wasn’t nearly as fascinated with our home and its history as Ella was, but even I knew of Amelia de Winterhoffe and her menagerie of forbidden creatures, or Sebastiana de Verayz and her habit of drinking the blood of virgins. Boys or girls, she hadn’t been picky, and apparently she paid well for the privilege.
“The gossips say he did.” Ella thumbed through the top few papers. “But there was never any evidence to support that. No kitchen maid went missing at the same time.”
“Chamber maid?” I suggested. “Milk maid? Laundry maid?”
“None of the above,” Ella snapped, before she caught sight of my smile and realized that I was teasing her. “None of the above,” she repeated more temperately. She pulled out a thin notebook from between her papers and flipped it open.
I leaned forward and tried to look at it upside-down. The handwriting, small and perfectly legible, was definitely not hers.
“These are his records,” Ella said. “He believed he had pinpointed the location of the hole and merely needed to find the exact time that it would open. He hired scholars to watch the spot for him. Apparently Grandmother Genevieve was appalled at the expenditure but he was the heir.”
“Until he disappeared? I’m surprised the rumors didn’t have Grandmother doing away with him.” I leaned away from the book. The handwriting was legible, but the notes were not, merely long lists of initialized dates and times.
“They did,” Ella replied absently, her gaze skimming down the page. “But Mother married Father within a year of Gervais’ disappearance. That ended all such talk. At least publicly.” She turned the page.
My eyes widened. Could this be the answer to a question I’d wondered about forever? “Do you suppose that’s why she married him?”
Ella paused, lifting her head from the book. She blinked at me rapidly, dark lashes fluttering around her dark eyes. “Pfft,” she snorted. “Can you imagine Grandmother Genevieve caring what anyone thought? If anything, she would have enjoyed the rumors. She would have used them to terrorize shopkeepers into cheaper prices.”
I sighed. It was a good point.
“Here it is.” Ella pointed at the page. “On 7 Midsummer 3043, the scholar Gervais had hired to watch for the hole claimed that it had appeared and that he’d thrown a rock through it. But it was gone by the time Gervais got there. On 10 Earlyspring 3045, the same scholar disappeared. On 13 Earlywinter 3046, Gervais disappeared. Seventeen months, three days.”
I pursed my lips. “Twice is a minimal pattern.”
Ella wagged her finger at me. “You do me no justice.” She slid out the rest of the papers and held them up. “Three other dated disappearances match. A gardener in 3026, a visiting chaplain in 3012, and a dog in 3000. Everyone believed the gardener quit with no notice, of course, but he left behind a wife and three children who swore he would never have abandoned them. The visiting chaplain was a notorious case, there one minute, gone the next. And the dog… well, it fits the schedule.”
“It’s a dog, Ella. They run away.”
She pulled the sheets that had been on top out again and turned them in my direction. There was the handwriting I recognized, messy, loopy, the bane of our tutor’s existence. Again, it was a list of dates, although without initials or times. “I’ve done the calculations. Today’s the day. Seventeen months, three days, the fifteenth cycle away from Gervais’s disappearance. Twenty-five years, six months, and eight days since he went missing.”
I frowned at her notes, calculating in my head. Her math appeared to be correct. Today was 21 Earlysummer. But…
“How long have you known this?” I demanded.
She bit her lip and looked away, her eyes turning toward the window.
“Since Midwinter,” she mumbled.
My mouth dropped open as I thought back. She had been bubbling over with excitement in Midwinter, but I’d assumed it was the season. Everyone liked Midwinter.
“I was going to go alone,” she said, words tumbling out over one another in a rush. “I’ve been planning it for months. I’ve got a bag ready, coins saved up, some dried meat and fruit packed.”
“You were going to leave me?” I put a hand on my chest. It felt like she’d punched me.
“Well…” She looked pained. “I thought if I told you, you might feel like you had to tell Mother. And then she might take us away for the day. I’d have to wait almost two more years and hope she forgot.”
“I would not have!” My face felt hot, my eyes stinging. My sister, my closest friend, had been planning to abandon me. It hurt.
“You did the time I wanted to build a flying device,” she reminded me.
“You were about to jump off the roof!” Our roof was four stories high. Ella had a minor levitation talent. She could float small objects across the room. But her idea that she could strengthen her talent by building wings had been akin to suicide. Of course I’d stopped her.
“And the time I tried to swim to the underwater caves.”
“The tide was coming in. You would have drowned!” Not to mention that she’d been eight years old and nowhere near as good at swimming as she thought she was.
“Well, yes.” Ella gave me a sheepish smile. “But you see…
I huffed with annoyance but the sting in my eyes was gone. She wasn’t wrong. I’d been stopping Ella’s crazy ideas since she was five and I was seven.