Ruby Red Page 1

Loading...

PROLOGUE

Hyde Park, London

8 April 1912

AS SHE FELL to her knees and burst into tears, he looked all around the park. Just as he’d expected, it was empty at this early hour. Jogging wouldn’t be fashionable for a long time yet, and it was too cold for the beggars who slept on park benches with nothing but newspaper over them.

He carefully wrapped the chronograph in its cloth and slipped it into his backpack.

She was huddled beside one of the trees on the north bank of the Serpentine, on a carpet of faded crocuses.

Her shoulders were shaking, and her sobs sounded like the desperate cries of an injured animal. He could hardly bear it. But he knew from experience that it was better to leave her alone. So he sat down beside her in the dew-covered grass, gazed at the smooth surface of the water, and waited.

“Have tissues been invented yet?” she finally sniffed, turning her tearstained face to him.

“No idea,” he said. “But I can offer you a monogrammed hanky—dead right for this period.”

“G.M. Did you pinch it from Grace?”

“She gave it to me, don’t worry. You can blow your nose on it all you like, Princess.”

She smiled wryly as she handed him the handkerchief. “Now it’s ruined. Sorry about that.”

“Oh, never mind!” he said. “Just so long as you’ve stopped crying.”

Tears shot straight back into her eyes. “We shouldn’t have abandoned her. She needs us! We’ve no idea if our bluff will work … and no chance of ever finding out now.”

“We’d have been even less use to her dead.”

“If we could only have hidden away with her somewhere far off, under other names, until she was old enough to—”

He interrupted her, shaking his head firmly. “They’d have found us anywhere we went; we’ve discussed that a thousand times already. We didn’t abandon her. We did the only right thing: we made it possible for her to live in safety. At least for the next sixteen years.”

For a moment she said nothing. Somewhere in the distance a horse whinnied, and voices drifted over from West Carriage Drive, although it was nearly dark now.

“I know you’re right,” she said at last. “It just hurts so much to know we’ll never see her again.” She gently rubbed her red-rimmed eyes. “At least we’re not going to be bored. Sooner or later they’ll track us down, even here, and set the Guardians on us. He’s not about to give up either the chronograph or his plans, not without a fight.”

He smiled, seeing the light of adventure come back into her eyes. “Maybe we’ll outwit him after all. Either that, or in the end the other device won’t work. Then he’ll be finished.”

“Right. But if it does work, we’re the only ones who can stop him.”

“That’s just why we’ve done the right thing.” He stood up and brushed the earth off his jeans. “Come on! This damn grass is wet, and you’re supposed to be taking things easy.”

She let him pull her to her feet and kiss her. “What are we going to do now? Look for a place to hide the chronograph?” she asked, looking undecidedly at the bridge separating Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens.

“Yes, but first let’s raid the Guardians’ deposits and stock up with cash. Then we could take the train to Southampton. The Titanic leaves on Wednesday. For her maiden voyage.”

She laughed. “So that’s your idea of taking things easy! But right, I’m with you!”

He was so glad she could laugh again that he kissed her once more. “I was really thinking.… You know that out at sea a ship’s captain can marry people, don’t you, Princess?”

“You want to marry me? On board the Titanic? Are you out of your mind?”

“It would be so romantic.”

“Except the bit with the iceberg.” She laid her head on his chest and buried her face in his jacket. “I love you so much,” she murmured.

“Will you be my wife?”

“Yes,” she said, her face still buried against his chest. “But only if we leave the ship in Queenstown, Ireland, at the latest.”

“Ready for the next adventure, Princess?”

“Ready when you are,” she said softly.

Uncontrolled time travel usually announces itself a few minutes in advance, but sometimes hours or even days ahead. The symptoms are sensations of vertigo in the head, stomach, and/or legs. Many gene carriers also speak of a headache similar to migraine.

The first journey back in time—also known as the initiation journey—takes place between the sixteenth and seventeenth years of the gene carrier’s life.

FROM THE CHRONICLES OF THE GUARDIANS,

VOLUME 2: GENERAL LAWS OF TIME TRAVEL

ONE

I FIRST FELT IT in the school canteen on Monday morning. For a moment it was like being on a roller coaster when you’re racing down from the very top. It lasted only two seconds, but that was long enough for me to dump a plateful of mashed potatoes and gravy all over my school uniform. I managed to catch the plate just in time, as my knife and fork clattered to the floor.

“This stuff tastes like it’s been scraped off the floor anyway,” said my friend Lesley while I mopped up the damage as well as I could. Of course everyone was looking at me. “You can have mine too, if you fancy spreading some more on your blouse.”

“No thanks.” As it happens, the blouse of the St. Lennox High School uniform was pretty much the color of mashed potatoes anyway, but you still couldn’t miss seeing the remaining globs of my lunch. I buttoned up my dark blue blazer over it.

“There goes Gwenny, playing with her food again!” said Cynthia Dale. “Don’t you sit next to me, you mucky pup.”

“As if I’d ever sit next to you of my own free will, Cyn.” It’s a fact, I’m afraid, that I did quite often have little accidents with school lunches. Only last week my pudding had hopped out of its dish and landed a few feet away, right in a Year Seven boy’s spaghetti carbonara. The week before that I’d knocked my cranberry juice over, and everyone at our table was splashed. They looked as if they had measles. And I really couldn’t count the number of times the stupid tie that’s part of our school uniform had been drenched in sauce, juice, or milk.

Only I’d never felt dizzy at the same time before.

But I was probably just imagining it. There’d been too much talk at home recently about dizzy feelings.

Not mine, though: my cousin Charlotte’s dizzy spells. Charlotte, beautiful and immaculate as ever, was sitting right there next to Cynthia, gracefully scooping mashed potatoes into her delicate mouth.

The entire family was on tenterhooks, waiting for Charlotte to have a dizzy fit. On most days, my grandmother, Lady Arista, asked Charlotte how she was feeling every ten minutes. My aunt Glenda, Charlotte’s mother, filled the ten-minute gap by asking the same thing in between Lady Arista’s interrogations.

And whenever Charlotte said that she didn’t feel dizzy, Lady Arista’s lips tightened and Aunt Glenda sighed. Or sometimes the other way around.

The rest of us—my mum, my sister Caroline, my brother Nick, and Great-aunt Maddy—rolled our eyes. Of course it was exciting to have someone with a time-travel gene in the family, but as the days went by, the excitement kind of wore off. Sometimes we felt that all the fuss being made over Charlotte was just too much.

Charlotte herself usually hid her feelings behind a mysterious Mona Lisa smile. In her place, I wouldn’t have known whether to be excited or worried if dizzy feelings failed to show up. Well, to be honest, I’d probably have been pleased. I was more the timid sort. I liked peace and quiet.

“Something will happen sooner or later,” Lady Arista said every day. “And we must be ready.”

Sure enough, something did happen after lunch, in Mr. Whitman’s history class. I’d left the canteen feeling hungry. I’d found a black hair in my dessert—apple crumble with custard—and I couldn’t be sure if it was one of my own hairs or a lunch lady’s. Anyway, I didn’t fancy the crumble after that.

Mr. Whitman gave us back the history test we’d taken last week. “You obviously prepared well for it. Especially Charlotte. An A-plus for you, Charlotte.”

Charlotte stroked a strand of her glossy red hair back from her face and said, “Oh, my!” as if the result came as a surprise to her. Even though she always had top marks in everything.

But Lesley and I were pleased with our own grades this time, too. We each had an A-minus, although our “preparation” had consisted of eating crisps and ice cream while we watched Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and then Elizabeth: The Golden Age on DVD. We did pay attention in history class, though, which I’m afraid couldn’t be said for all our other courses.

Mr. Whitman’s classes were so intriguing that you couldn’t help listening. Mr. Whitman himself was also very interesting. Most of the girls were secretly—or not so secretly—in love with him. So was our geography teacher, Mrs. Counter. She went bright red whenever Mr. Whitman passed her. And he was terribly good-looking. All the girls thought so, except Lesley. She thought Mr. Whitman looked like a cartoon squirrel.

“Whenever he looks at me with those big brown eyes, I feel like giving him a nut,” she said. She even started calling the squirrels running around in the park Mr. Whitmans. The silly thing is that somehow it was infectious, and now, whenever a squirrel scuttled past me, I always said, “Oh, look at that cute, fat little Mr. Whitman!”

I’m sure it was the squirrel business that made Lesley and me the only girls in the class who weren’t crazy about Mr. Whitman. I kept trying to fall in love with him (if only because the boys in our class were all somehow totally childish), but it was no good. The squirrel comparison had lodged itself in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I mean, how can you feel romantic about a squirrel?

Cynthia had started the rumor that when he was studying, Mr. Whitman had worked as a male model on the side. By way of evidence, she’d cut an ad out of a glossy magazine, with a picture showing a man not unlike Mr. Whitman lathering himself with shower gel.

Apart from Cynthia, however, no one thought Mr. Whitman was the man in the shower-gel ad. The model had a dimple in his chin, and Mr. Whitman didn’t.

The boys in our class didn’t think Mr. Whitman was so great. Gordon Gelderman, in particular, couldn’t stand him. Because before Mr. Whitman came to teach in our school, all the girls in our class were in love with Gordon. Including me, I have to admit, but I was only eleven at the time and Gordon was still quite cute. Now, at sixteen, he was just stupid. And his voice had been in a permanent state of breaking for the last two years. Unfortunately, the mixture of squealing and growling still didn’t keep him from spewing nonsense all the time.

He got very upset about getting an F on the history test. “That’s discrimination, Mr. Whitman. I deserve a B at least. You can’t give me bad marks just because I’m a boy.”

Mr. Whitman took Gordon’s test back from him, turned a page, and read out, “Elizabeth I was so ugly that she couldn’t get a husband. So everyone called her the Ugly Virgin.”

Next