NOVEMBER HAD SETTLED into New Haven like a petulant child, alternating between raining tantrums and bitterly cold sulks. That afternoon, a storm had wrapped around the house on Crider Street and was busily rattling the windows, an occasional scrape of hail mixing with the rain. After one particularly windy blast, Rosemary Harker looked up from the newspaper she was reading, mentally gauging the probable damage to the roof.
“We can afford to fix it,” her brother said, not lifting his nose from the book he was reading. “Assuming the boiler doesn’t also break. Would you rather stay dry, or stay warm?”
She made a humming noise deep in her throat. “If we keep the books dry, we can burn those to stay warm.”
Aaron lifted his head sharply, first to glance worriedly at the books lining the walls between windows, and then to glare at his sister. “You are not a good person.”
Her brother was so easy to rile, it almost wasn’t amusing. Almost.
“You know I would never do that.” She scanned the nearest bookshelf, burnished leather spines squared neatly behind glass panes. “I’m not sure any of those would be safe to burn, anyway.” It was a Huntsman’s library: there were things on those aged pages that were not safe to be spoken out loud, much less set free in a puff of smoke. “Your novels, on the other hand…”
When her brother simply continued glaring at her, she chuckled and went back to her newspaper. President Wilson had made a speech down in Alabama, claiming that the United States would not seek to claim more territory through conquest, a promise everyone must know he would break. She sighed and turned the page, looking for lighter fare. But the news had been cast under a bad moon that week. Even word of a peace treaty ending the war in Serbia now seemed overcast with doubt.
Aaron thought she worried overmuch about what happened in the larger world. He preferred to focus his studies on things that he could affect directly, the more intimate picture. Their differing approaches made them a good pair, an effective Huntsmen team. But she wished she had someone to discuss events with; the ladies of New Haven hosted the occasional radical speaker, but their efforts were more often bent to the matter of the vote rather than the unrest beyond America’s borders.
She lifted her gaze again to see what it was that he was reading tonight. The book was newer than most on their shelves, and slender. He felt her gaze and lifted the book so that she could see the cover.
“Der Tod in Venedig. Thomas Mann. You’d dislike it.”
She didn’t doubt it for a moment. Novels were not to her taste.
She shifted, and a prickling in her limbs told her that she had been sitting still for too long. She flexed her feet, pressing against something heavy and warm. A low moan of complaint came from the brindle hound collapsed on the floor by her chair, heavy head resting on his paws. She pushed at his flank again with her toe, the fabric of her house shoe barely making a dent in the thick muscle under short, plush fur.
“Poor Bother,” she said fondly. “Such a hard life you lead.” The hound had a kennel out back, warm and dry even in such foul weather, but he was as often inside as out.
His head turned to look up at her now, one triangular ear flopping over while the other remained erect, giving him a rakish look at odds with his impeccable bloodline.
“He’s getting soft and lazy,” her brother said. “It’s been too quiet since summer.” He closed the book he had been reading and placed it on the table next to his chair. “I’ve half a mind to put in a call to Uncle Bryan and see if there’s anything happening down his way worth checking out, just for the excuse to do something.”
Rosemary rested her foot on Botheration’s side and waved her hand in languid dismissal of her brother’s suggestion. “Nothing ever happens in Baltimore. It’s far too civilized.”
“There were grindylows, back in ’02.”
“Grindylows hardly count.”
“They ate seven people.”
“Papa said three of them were sailors, so they didn’t count,” she responded primly.
“And because you always believed what Papa said.”
Her mouth twitched. “Well, I did when I was fifteen!”
Aaron scoffed, pushing up out of his chair and walking into the kitchen. She heard him pouring water into the kettle, then setting it on the hob to boil.
“The Keemun, please,” she called out. “And the cookies in the tin, there should be some left.”
A grunt was the only response she got.
“Your master is a grumpy old man at the ripe age of twenty,” she told the hound under her feet. “But he makes a decent cup of tea, so I think we’ll keep him, yes?”
The hound let out another heavy, grumbling sigh and got to his feet, dislodging hers, then padded over to the door that led downstairs, where he waited.
She narrowed her eyes at the beast. “It’s cold out there, Bother, remember? Cold, and wet, and windy.”
As though to make her a liar, the sound of rain on the roof slope slowed to a faint patter, and she glared up at the ceiling like it had betrayed her.
The hound whined once, and she gave in, getting up as well and reaching for the thick wool shawl draped over the back of her chair. “All right, all right. Have I told you recently that you’re well-named?”
Botheration’s papers said his full name was Eisenblut-Morgendämmerungstreter, Ironblood Dawn Treader in English, but he’d been Botheration since he came to them, a solid chunk of six-month-old puppy already reaching her knee. He was a Foundation Molosser, smart enough to take himself out to do his business and come back, but he still needed her to open the doors for him. “Come on then, let’s go.”
The house they’d let had an empty flat on the first floor, which the owners occasionally used for purposes unknown, while the Harkers’ quarters took up the second and third. It was a solidly built house, and she liked it well enough, the three years they’d been living there, but the stairwell was narrow enough that Botheration’s shoulders nearly brushed the walls, and steeper than Rosemary felt comfortable with, wearing skirts. Thankfully, there was also a sturdy railing along one wall, and the electric sconces were turned up bright. Watching the beast in front of her, she could make out the play of muscles under his fur, see where the scar tissue he’d gotten during last month’s work was still healing on his left haunch, and made a note to massage it again with salve. He was no longer a puppy, and that scar would only ache more as time went by.
Botheration reached the door before her and settled again into a waiting pose, his left ear flopping over once more.
“You are a ridiculous beast,” she told him, opening the door to a blast of damp cold. “Now go on, get busy. I’m not going to stand here and wait on you.”
From upstairs, she heard her brother call out that the tea was almost ready.
“You hear that?” she said to the hound. “Go, do.”
Botheration shuffled down the porch steps to the street, and she shut the door against the wind, waiting for the sound of his claws against the wood asking to be let in. In weather like this, he would not linger.
Instead, after a few minutes there was a solid thunk on the porch, and then the sound of knuckles against the doorframe, followed immediately by a chiming upstairs as their unexpected visitor found the bell.
Rosemary’s right hand dropped to her waist, but she had dressed for a quiet day at home, and her knife was upstairs, safely sheathed and put away. She reached up to find a long, sharp pin nestled in her braided hair. It was a close-in weapon, not ideal, but it was better than opening the door empty-handed.
Not that she expected trouble—this was a decent enough neighborhood, and most of the local toughs knew Bother, or at least of him—but for Huntsmen, not being prepared could lead to being dead. Even at home.
“Hello?” A man’s voice carried through the door, and then she heard the sound of a familiar, heavy thud, and the man’s voice again, louder and higher. “What? Um, good dog? Hello?”
The tension eased from her body: she did not recognize the voice, but whoever was out there was now more at risk than a risk.
Rosemary replaced the hairpin and checked her appearance in the pier glass on the wall, then opened the door to rescue whoever it was from Botheration’s attention.
The man standing on her porch wore the brown uniform of the Messenger Service under his gabardine coat, and a politely terrified expression on his face.
Rosemary held out her hand, palm down. “Bother, sit.”
The beast settled on his haunches but kept his eyes focused on the stranger, jaw hanging open to let his tongue loll to the side, a sure sign, if you knew the hound, that he was amused.
Clearly, the messenger did not know, as he looked near ready to pass out. To be fair, the mass of muscle and fur, even seated, would give the bravest man pause. There were very few like Botheration anywhere in the States; his bloodline was Albanian, his dam from Russia, and the pups went only to Huntsmen families.
The wind had let up slightly, but the rain still pattered softly on the porch’s roof, and unlike the deliveryman, she was not dressed for the outdoors. “Just don’t make any sudden moves, or yell, and you’ll be fine.”
The messenger did not look reassured. “What—what does he do if I yell?”
She rested her hand on the back of the hound’s thick neck, giving it an affectionate shake. “Mostly, he licks your face,” she lied. “But he’ll knock you down to get there.”
As she’d hoped, that put the man a little at ease, enough that he recalled why he was standing there, dripping with rain.
“Are you Miss Rosemary Harker?”
She smiled politely, but tension returned to her limbs, and Botheration let out a faint rumble that had the man blanching again. “I am.”
“Then I have a letter for you, miss.”
Letters, in her experience, meant either bad news or worse news. But she took the letter from him with a polite thank-you, managing to restrain her amusement as he then backed up off the front porch, never taking his gaze off Botheration, who watched him go with placid menace.
“Are you done?” she asked the hound, who sneezed once and shook himself, splatting rain, then pushed past her to head back up the steps.
Aaron was waiting for them, the tea poured and ready on the tray with a dish of shortbread. She lifted the letter so that he could see it, and he plucked it from her fingers as Botheration padded past them both, shaking the last of the rain from his fur before settling on the rug.
Aaron looked at the envelope, then looked back at her, frowning. “Brunson, New York? Who do we know there?”
She sat down in her chair and took a sip of the tea, letting the warmth of it push away the lingering effects of being outside, however briefly.
“The name on the return is Lovelace.” She frowned, thinking. “Dr. Lovelace? Remember? Father’s cousin, the one who was fond of Mother.” She made an imperious gesture with her free hand, and he passed the letter back to her, huffing.
“You mean, the one who didn’t turn up their nose at the southern trash Father dragged home?”
“Not all of them were rude.”
He made a sour face but let the subject drop. Rosemary placed her cup back on the tray, then slit open the letter and unfolded it. “It’s from his wife.”
“He was married? Do we have cousins we didn’t know about? Cousins would be nice.” Aaron sat down, this time on the divan, and leaned forward, forearms on his knees. “So what does it say?”
“Oh.” Her expression softened slightly. “He’s dead.” She read the paragraph again, scanning the words as though they might change between one look and the next. “The funeral was two days ago.”
“Huh. So. No cousins? Are we in his will?”
Her reproving tone failed to quash him. “It seemed an important question.”
Their finances were only now recovering from the Panic of ’07, so he wasn’t wrong. “All she says is that it was sudden, and…” Her voice trailed off and she read that passage again.
“He left word that we should be contacted in the event of his death.”
Aaron made a hopeful gesture. “So we are in the will?”
Rosemary made a face at him, somewhere between exasperation and worry. “He left a note on his desk for her to contact us. The night before he died.”
She could see the moment Aaron understood. He ran fingers through his hair, rumpling the once neatly combed locks into disarray, then rubbed his palms over his cheeks, rough with a day’s shadow. “An uncanny death.”
She shrugged agreement, folding the letter back up carefully. There was only one reason to inform Huntsmen of a sudden death, and that was if the uncanny were involved. If the death had been uncanny-caused.
“So.” Aaron had a smile on his face, perhaps unseemly so soon after the news of a relative’s death, however distant, but she knew her brother, and understood him. “We’re off to… where are we off to?”
“Brunson.” Rosemary’d always had a better grasp of geography than him. “Upstate New York, on the shores of Lake Ontario.”
“In November. Joyous is the life of man.” But his grin didn’t waver, and after a moment, Rosemary felt a smile of her own joining his. The man’s death was a tragedy, of course, but they were Huntsmen, and Huntsmen were not meant to sit home by the fire.