“See, I didn’t grow up with witches,” said Matilda.
We had walked back to Miss Lavender’s in silence, through the silent, lamp-lit streets. Even the Common was deserted at that hour. We had opened the gate, which was left unlocked, and walked down Hecate Lane to the school grounds. Only a few lights were on, the one above the front door and what looked like a light in the kitchen.
We had not gone in. None of us had felt like going in yet. Instead, we had sat down on one of the garden benches.
Then Mouse had said, “I need to go for a walk.” She had stood up, walked down one of the garden paths, and disappeared into the darkness.
After a few minutes, Emma had said “I’m not sure she should be alone right now,” and followed her. That was the Gaunt in her. Gaunts do things like that. You see, a bunch of Gaunts had died in the Sitgreaves Murders. Figures that Emma would be the one to follow Mouse, to tell her it was all right. Even though it wasn’t.
“An aunt of hers died, a couple of cousins, I’m not sure who else. Some Tillinghasts died too. One Graves. Hawthornes, they’re an old New England witching family. Mandragoras. Grimms. A lot of people who aren’t people, I mean who are from the Other Country.”
“I thought people never died there,” said Mathilda.
“Yes, that’s why no one was prepared. My Mom was at that party, you know,” I said. “She told me about it later. She said it was one of the worst things she had ever seen. Tree Women weeping sap. Morgan was there doing triage.”
And then I told her about Sitgreaves.
“He was one of the most talented warlocks that Merlin ever trained. Samael Sitgreaves was his name, and the Sitgreaves back then were just like the Gaunts now. You know, rich and richer. But he did something terrible, and Merlin cast him out.”
“What did he do?” asked Matilda.
“He fell in love with one of the White Women of the Forest, who wear white dresses and shoes of bark. But she did not love him back, so he kidnapped her. He hid her so well that no one could find her, and a year later she died in childbirth. He appeared one night on the doorsteps of Sitgreaves House and knocked on the door. The housekeeper answered, and he gave her the child, told her it was called Sophia, and then vanished. That was the last anyone saw of him, until the murders.” I kicked at the grass with my shoe. My mother had told me this story, when she was still alive. Sometimes I loved to think about her, and sometimes I hated it.
“That must have been Mouse,” said Matilda. “Why couldn’t anyone find him? I mean, people like Mrs. Moth and Miss Gray . . .”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just know they couldn’t. He found a place to hide, and no one could trace him there.”
“So what happened then? I mean, the murders.”
When my mother had told me about it, she had cried. Her sister had died there, and another Graves, a distant cousin that she didn’t know well. She had told me, “But I still remember that she was wearing a pair of bright red shoes, and a hat with red roses on it. It was supposed to have been such a wonderful day!”
It had been a birthday party for Alistair Gaunt, who was turning a hundred. And there were a hundred guests invited, to the party under the large tent in a field close to Mother Night’s house. My mother remembered cakes shaped like winged horses, and fountains that bubbled with wines of different colors and flavors, and dragons that whirled through the air, sometimes knocking off the hats of guests. There was music, played by an odd assortment of instruments that moved by themselves.
In the middle of the festivities, suddenly, he was there. Samael Sitgreaves in a black suit, with a cape over his shoulders.
“Ladies and gentlemen and others,” he said. “Don’t be alarmed. I’ve simply come for what’s mine.” He meant Mouse. She was just a little girl then, two or three years old. The Sitgreaves had been looking after her. And they wouldn’t give her to him.
His own mother said to him, “When you left that child in our keeping, you gave up any right you had to her. She is ours now, and you will not take her away from us.”
And you know, everyone there, every Sitgreaves and Gaunt and Graves and Hawthorne and Mandragora and Grimm, stood ready to oppose him. But he waved his hand, and it was as though something was torn open, and then people were screaming. The dead lay dead, and the living tried to keep anyone else from dying, and Sitgreaves was gone – with Mouse.
“That’s a terrible story,” said Matilda. “What about people like Mrs. Moth and Miss Gray. Couldn’t they do anything?”
“Well, they weren’t there, for one thing,” I said. “Morgan came when she heard the screaming, and tried to help. And afterward, Miss Gray searched for Mouse. She finally found her – she had been hidden in time. She brought her here, to Miss Lavender’s, where she thought Mouse would be safe.”
“You said the Sitgreaves were a rich witching family. Why can’t they protect Mouse now?”
“Sitgreaves killed every last one of them. There are no Sitgreaves left anymore.”
“Except me,” said Mouse. She walked out of the darkness, and Emma walked after her. “I’m the last one.”
“It’s not your fault, you know,” I said. “You were, like, two years old.”
“I know that,” she said. “But how would you feel having a murderer for a father?”
Emma put her arm around Mouse.
“Look,” I said. “We can’t do anything else tonight. Let’s just go in and get to sleep. Tomorrow we have to talk about what to do. Because if Sitgreaves is back, and he’s plotting in some way, then we have to do something.”
“Why can’t we just tell Mrs. Moth?” asked Emma.
“And what’s she going to say then?” said Matilda. “She’s going to ask us how we got this information, and then we’re going to tell her, oh yeah, we forgot to mention it, but we sneaked out at night and broke into Tillinghast House, and then we’re all going to be expelled!”
“No telling Mrs. Moth,” I said. “But we have to do something, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. All right?”
They all nodded, although I could see Emma was reluctant. But after a quick raid on the kitchen for bread and cheese and grapes, we went to bed. I dreamed that night of the Sitgreaves Murders, the way my mother had described it – with the sudden flash, the clap as though of thunder, the tearing sound. And then the screaming. I woke in the middle of the night, in a sweat. But I fell asleep again soon after and slept without dreams, all night long.
I’ve decided that every Friday, I’m going to write part of the Shadowlands serial. If you want to read parts that I’ve already written, go to Serial. There, you can read all about Thea Graves, Matilda Tillinghast, Emma Gaunt, and Mouse, from the beginning.