After a harrowing transatlantic crossing and a frightening stay in Five Points, New York City's worst slum, British immigrant Alice Davison believes that her tribulations are over. Despite the best efforts of both human and inhuman foes to kill her, she manages to board a small steam ship bound for Texas where she happily reunites with her family. Rested, clean, and well-fed, it seems that at last she can focus on her future with Sir Henry Falkner.
However, life has more surprises in store for her. And not the good kind of surprises.
Discovering that her sister and her beau are still alive is just the first bombshell on this voyage. When they encounter a fierce storm as their ship rounds the Florida Keys and are subsequently thrown into the path of an equally terrible danger, Alice must find the courage she needs to keep herself, her loved ones, and even her shipmates alive.
Filled with adventure, supernatural creatures, and romance, this final installment in the Birdcatcher trilogy uniquely portrays the challenges of coming of age and immigration in 19th century America..
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
--William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Discovering that my sister Mary was alive was the first sign that nothing about our latest ocean voyage would be predictable. Especially since she wasn’t exactly alive, so to speak.
My mother and youngest sister, Lucy, both had believed that Mary and her beau had fallen into the ocean and drowned during our transatlantic voyage to America. I knew, however, that she and Robert had actually been pulled into the dark, churning water by a vampire. I had assumed that they had died, but it appeared that none of us were exactly right.
As mother, Lucy, and I stared at my elegantly garbed sister, Lucy was the first to break our shocked silence.
“Mary! Oh, Mary, we thought you had died!”
As I stood gaping at my sister, Mary turned, and an expression I couldn’t name briefly flitted across her face before being replaced with a mask of composure. When she rose from the dining table, a tight-lipped smile had appeared on her pale, pale face.
“Why, mother? Sisters? No embrace for your long-lost Mary?” she asked with a jolly voice, her arms outstretched. “We all live! A cause for celebration.”
Without hesitation, my mother and Lucy embraced Mary, but I felt unexpectedly reluctant. A hand pressed against my back. It was Henry. I had already sensed his presence, but my focus was entirely on my sister. I longed to lean into him, to find refuge, but public decorum dictated otherwise. So instead, I forced a smile that strained with its falsity.
Mary wrapped her arms around my mother and sister, but her gaze was upon me and Henry. Her smile grew, a toothsome, ghastly expression that revealed the truth of what she had become. I knew not if the display was for me or for Henry.
Did you know she was here? I asked him with my thoughts, not turning to look at him. As long as his vampire blood flowed through me, we were intimately connected. Telepathy was quite convenient at the moment: I knew that if I looked into his kind, gray eyes, I might begin to cry.
I knew there was some of my kind on board, but not who, he answered grimly.
There is more than one? I asked, feeling faint. Before he could answer, I saw the other one for myself. Mr. Prescott had joined Mary who still had my mother and Lucy in an embrace. I resisted the urge to pull mother and Lucy away.
“Alice?” Mary asked with raised eyebrows. “Are you not happy to see me? And my darling Mr. Prescott?”
I shook myself out of my reverie. This time, Mary’s expression seemed genuinely puzzled by my distance. I would save my alarm at her current state for later digestion. Even if she was now undead, she was still my sister.
I fell into their group embrace. We all, minus Mary and the stony-faced Mr. Prescott, shed tears of joy. Myself, included. I found, to my surprise, that the tears I shed were genuine: If I could love Henry, who was also sadly afflicted by this curse, then perhaps I could continue to love Mary. I only hoped that this condition had brought out her better qualities. One could hope.
With relieved laughter, realizing that we were now the focus of the dining room’s attention, we pulled away from one another. I took my mother’s arm, for while she was overjoyed at Mary’s return, she looked as if she might swoon at any moment.
“Let’s take our reunion somewhere more private,” I suggested with a low voice. I noticed that Mr. Prescott, although he stood at attention, hung apart from us. I wondered at his attitude.
“Dear Mr. Prescott, shall we lead the way?” Mary asked.
With a grim expression on his face, he offered up his arm, and Mary slipped her silk-clad one into his. “Thank you, darling,” she said, looking up at him with sly eyes.
Without answering her, he led the way out of the dining saloon. I studied their figures as they swept from the room. Mary’s head was held high, her long skirt with its scalloped hem trailed behind her like the wake of a grand ship. Mr. Robert Prescott, who on the previous voyage had been her eager, wealthy, and somewhat portly, suitor, was now solemn and silent. He stood two heads taller than Mary and while his blue frock coat and pantaloons were cut in the most fashionable style, it could not hide the round belly that still threatened to escape his waistcoat. As a vampire, he would be forever frozen in this rotund form.
I turned to see if Henry followed, but I discovered that he and Adebayo had remained in the dining saloon. Our eyes met.
There’s no place for me at a family reunion, Henry said to me, mind to mind. But I will be close at hand if you should need me.
I nodded and turned to follow my family. His words were a comfort to me, but anxiety had returned in full force, and I felt as if I was once again preparing for a battle for which I was little prepared. Who knew if the new Mary would be a friend or foe?
Mary and Robert led us to the first class saloon. The doors were already thrown open in welcome, but the gas lights were dim since the porters had not totally readied the room for the after-dinner guests. Full bottles of port and sherry glimmered in the muted light, waiting for the imminent guests upon a sideboard.
Mary slipped from Robert’s loose grip and turned the gas lights up probably more from habit than from need. Robert proceeded to the decanters, where he unstopped a bottle of blood-red liquid and poured himself a glassful.
“There! Now we can see one another!” Mary trilled. She reached for mother’s and Lucy’s hands, pulling them toward a settee. “But where is father? Is he in your cabin?”
“Oh, darling,” my mother began, “your father has gone to his eternal rest. If only he had known that you still lived! He was heartbroken, as we all were, when we thought we had lost you to the sea.” She crushed Mary in another embrace and began to weep.
“Father?” she said with a hollow voice. “But how?”
“I will tell you another time,” I said with a hoarse voice.
She studied me and then shrugged.
“Very well,” she answered with a wave of a delicate hand sparkling with jewels. With that wave, she also seemed to dismiss her feelings. I knew not if this was a skill given to some vampires, or Mary’s innate ability to shut off her emotions on whim.
I once again studied Mary’s lovely gown and jewels. Clearly, Mary had done well for herself in the short time since she had been pulled into the dark sea by a vampire who had been lurking alongside our ship. I wondered how she had managed the change and then found such a rich wardrobe so quickly. She had much to tell me as well.
“Darling, how did you and Mr. Prescott survive the fall into the ocean? Where did you go?” Mother asked her, anticipating some of my own questions, albeit more of the normal ones. She was holding Mary’s hand with both of her own. “We looked everywhere on board for you both. Alice and Sir Falkner even jumped into the sea to find you.”
“It happened so fast, I’m not sure,” Mary answered. She looked to Mr. Prescott for confirmation, but his eyes focused on the glass in his hand. “I suppose we lost our balance and tipped over the edge. Fortunately, a fishing trawler came along and pulled us out. We were nearly frozen to death.”
“Oh, my dear.” My mother exclaimed. “How frightful!”
“By the time we could communicate with the fisherman--we were both shaking from the cold and could not speak--our ship was long gone. The kind men returned us to New York where the ship’s owner hosted us until it was time to board this ship.”
Lucy settled in beside Mary and rested her head on her shoulder.
“I’m glad these kind people helped you,” Lucy sighed. “For we gave all of your clothes to some poor children who had none.”
Mary laughed, “Oh, I have no need of my old clothes. I have much better ones now. We both do now, isn’t that right, my dear Mr. Prescott?”
Mr. Prescott downed the rest of his drink. “Whatever you say, Mary.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. This was not the same man who had been besotted with my sister, surely. I glanced at mother to see if she noticed his attitude and found that she seemed quite unaware of his simmering anger, but she was quite pale from the shock of Mary’s unexpected return and could hardly be expected to notice Mr. Prescott’s strange mood.
“Mother, let me get you something,” I said out loud. I crossed the room to the sideboard and picked a round bottle filled with an amber liquid. I began pouring a sample into a dainty glass.
“Mr. Prescott, words cannot express how relieved we are that you and my sister are safe,” I said to him with low words. “Are you much changed for the experience? I fear that it will be a long while until you have recovered.”
“Please call me Robert,” he replied, “for we are no longer strangers. I am forever attached to your sister, and as such, am now like a brother to you.” He laughed bitterly, and then he guzzled the rest of his drink. He reached for the bottle again.
“Changed, you say?” he laughed bitterly. “I am not the same man I once was. In fact, you could say that I am no longer a man.”
“Darling!” Mary called from across the room. “Are you being morose? Don’t fret, Alice! He does get in these low moods, and we must ride them out.”
“I’m not bothered in the least,” I answered. “I would be in a low mood too if I had experienced what you two have.” I handed my mother the drink, which she took with gratitude. I sank into the settee next to Lucy and took her free hand.
“We have had our own misadventures that will no doubt leave lasting effects,” I said.
“I would like to hear about them,” Mary answered, one eyebrow delicately raised.
I wished that I could tell her the entire tale, but since mother and Lucy were present, I gave her the abbreviated version. In short, how we were delivered to the worst neighborhood in New York--to the most distasteful boarding house therein. And that father, in a reckless moment, had been caught up with bad men and that I had found him only moments away from death. His last words had been filled with love for us and regret for his treatment of my mother, myself, and my sisters. How bittersweet that he should finally utter the words I’d longed to hear my whole life only when they could no longer be uttered again.
“This is tragic!” Mary said, her grief evident and sincere upon her face. “If only I could have said goodbye to him.”
“Something good did come out of our time in Five Points,” my mother interjected. “The two little girls, the ones who now have your dresses, have been lifted from poverty and are now in the care of Mrs. Forte.”
Lucy related the story of Sally and Agatha, who had lived in the decrepit boarding house much neglected by their mother who had later been found dead shortly before our removal from Five Points. Mrs. Forte, our friend from the trans-Atlantic voyage, had kindly adopted them and taken them to live in Boston. I was sure that from this point forward, they would be loved and cared for.
“If Mr. Prescott accompanies you now, am I to assume that you two have made future plans?” My mother asked delicately. Now that she was safe and sound, my mother, of course, must consider propriety.
“Our experience has united us for life, dear mother,” Mary answered. “Naught shall ever separate us.”
My mother looked confused by her vague reply, shifting her gaze between two young lovers. “I congratulate you both, then. How sad that you had no father to see you wed!” she cried, dabbing at her eyes.
“Please don’t fret mother. It was a small affair,” Mary assured mother with a small smile. I shuddered when I imagined the undersea ritual that had bound them for eternity.
Mr. Prescott poured another drink. He raised his glass to the room.
“Here’s to me and Mary. And the never ending bliss of matrimony!”
Mary stood, but before she could utter a word, the saloon door was opened by a steward, and the dinner guests began to pour in.
“We will return to our cabin. It’s been a long, tiring day. But we will see you at breakfast I hope?” my mother’s expression was both hopeful and vulnerable.
“Perhaps,” Mary said. “I am still weak from the ordeal and may dine in our room. But, please come find us in our quarters if we are not there.”
I was not surprised that Mary wouldn’t be attending breakfast. Nor lunch, I presumed. I only hoped that Lucy did not suspect what our sister had become. If she did, I feared that she might never recover from the shock.