But if my brother Valentine is in favor of something, that something isn't particularly likely to be a good idea.
"I thought you might want a bruiser to get you past the throng," I remarked to Mercy. It was half a joke. I'm solid, and quick too, but a bantam. An inch taller than Mercy, if I'm lucky. But Napoleon didn't figure height stood between him and the Rhineland, and I lose fights about as often as he did.
"Oh? Oh, I see. Well, that was very kind, then."
She wasn't actually surprised; the set of her robin's-egg-blue eyes told me that much, and I decided to watch my step. Mercy is very difficult to navigate. But I know my way around the city, and around Mercy Underhill. I was born in a cheerless cottage in Greenwich Village before New York even touched its borders, and I'd been learning Mercy's quirks since she was nine.
"I wonder something this morning." She paused, her wide-set eyes sliding my way and then dropping off again." But it's silly, maybe. You'll laugh."
"If you ask me not to, I won't."
"I wonder why you never use my name, you see, Mr. Wilde."
New York's winds are never fresh in the summer. But as we turned onto Wall, bank after bank scrolling past us in line after line of Grecian columns, the air turned sweeter. Or maybe I just remembered it that way afterward, but suddenly it all seemed pure dust and hot stone. Clean, like parchment. That smell was worth a fortune."I don't know what you mean," I said.
"There, yes. I'm sorry - I don't mean to be cryptic." Mercy's bottom lip slid underneath her top one just a little, only a fraction of a warm wet inch, and I thought in that moment I could taste it too. "You could have just said, 'I don't know what you mean, Miss Underhill.' And then we wouldn't be talking about it any longer."
"What does that make you think?"
I spied a jagged hole in the pavement. Pivoting quickly, I guided Mercy out of its path with a swish of her pale green summer skirts. Maybe she'd caught sight of the little cave herself, though, for I didn't startle her. Her head didn't even turn. Escorting Mercy down a block, depending on her mood, you might not be there for all the attention she pays you. And I'm not exactly Sunday, so to speak. I've never been a special occasion. I'm all of the other days in the workweek, and there are plenty of us streaming by without notice. But I could fix that, or I thought I could.
"Do you mean to make me theorize that you like the topic of my name, Mr.Wilde?" she asked me, looking as if she was trying not to laugh.
I'd caught her out, though. No one ever answers her questions with questions, just the way she never acknowledges answering questions at all. That's another fault of Mercy's I'm fixed on. She's a reverend's daughter, to be certain, but she talks clever as a jade if only you're keen enough to notice.
"Do you know what I'd like to do?" I questioned in return, thinking that was the trick of it. "I've managed to put some money away, four hundred in cash. Not like all these maniacs who take their first extra dollar and play it against the price of China tea. I want to buy some land, out on Staten Island maybe, and have a river ferry. Steamships are dear, but I can take my time finding a good price."
I remembered being two years orphaned, scrawny and pale-skinned and twelve. Wheedling my way through sheer tenacity into the employment of a hulking but kindly Welsh boatman during once of the leaner periods Valentine and I had ever faced, having lived off of mealy apples for a week. Maybe I was hired on as a deckhand because the fellow suspected as much. I recalled standing at the prow of the ferry before the rails I'd just polished until my fingers were peeling, head thrown back as an ecstatic midsummer thunderstorm exploded in the still-blazing sunshine. For five minutes, spray and rain had danced in the dazzling light, and for five minutes, I'd not wondered whether my brother back on Manhattan Island had yet managed to kill himself. It felt wonderful. Like being erased.
Excerpted from The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. Copyright © 2012 by Lyndsay Faye. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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