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Out of Oz, Page 47

Gregory Maguire

  Rain’s regret must have showed on her face before she could mask it. Tip said, “I’d rather skive off with you and see what’s going on in the town centre.”

  “If I see our friend the Northern Bear, I’ll give him your regards,” she said airily.

  “Pit,” said Madame Chard from her doorway, “what are you doing loafing about in the hall? Miss Rainary, your books await you. We’re at Lesson Seventeenish. Making the Least of Fractions.”

  The next day Rain’s fears proved reliable; Miss Ironish did commandeer Tip’s company for her excursion. They would travel by the rail line, recently completed, between Shiz and the Emerald City. It would cut their travel time in half, and they would return in under a week. Madame Skinkle would serve as proctress-pro-tem. “Honor her as you would myself,” advised Miss Ironish before alighting the carriage that would take her to Railway Square. Since none of the girls particularly honored Miss Ironish, the instruction seemed easy enough to follow.

  Rain saw that Scarly was also traveling in attendance of Miss Ironish. “I hope you all have a very fine time,” Rain muttered as the carriage pulled away.

  “What’s that, Miss Rainary?” asked Miss Igilvy.

  “Nothing at all. Are you going to the silly affair in town?”

  “Yes,” said Miss Igilvy. “Shall we be chums, after all? I’m going to wear my dotted morpheline with the lace trim. What will you wear?”

  “Clothes, I suspect.” That was intended to put Miss Igilvy off, but it didn’t work. Rain was saddled with Miss Igilvy half the afternoon and into the evening. But she wasn’t so bad. Out of some sour mood, Rain even took her into the shop. The Northern Bear didn’t recognize Rain, and when she found the folded map tossed aside on top of an overstuffed and listing bookcase, she took it to the counter. “Would you sell me this?” she asked.

  The Bear looked at it and named a modest price. Rain hesitated. But the Bear would never miss it. Another theft. She handed over a guilty coin.

  “That kind of dive is what Miss Ironish would have us pass by,” said Miss Igilvy as they left. “Miss Rainary, we’re skirting the main events. It’s getting dark enough, they’ll have lit the trees. I can hear the music. Enough of antique tiktokery and old maps. We’re now, and here.”

  The festival seemed to Rain overloud and feverish, sort of desperate. A fiddler and three country dancers made a ruckus in the square, and barmaids from local establishments were going about with tankards of ale or barleywater. Miss Igilvy and Rain caught up with a couple of the girls who were about to commence to one of the colleges in the fall. “It’s so different this year,” complained a droll young woman whose name Rain had never learned. “I can’t put my finger on it.”

  “It’s a lack of men, you moron,” said her mate. “Look about you. Even the college boys are in short supply. They’ve been pulled for military duty. If you’ve come to the party hoping to snag a snog, I believe you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

  The whole town seemed to have turned into an extension of the experience of life at St. Prowd’s—that is, without the distraction of lessons. Rain found it taxing and crude. “I think I’ll go back,” she said to Miss Igilvy. “Can I safely attach you to these graduates?”

  “Shhh, the Lord Mayor is going to speak.”

  The Lord Mayor of Shiz looked quite a bit like the Senior Overseer of St. Prowd’s. But what a girth of belly!

  “There is a reason to celebrate on every given day,” he said, once the crowd had quietened down. “We shouldn’t go about the business of beating our breasts because of the hardships placed upon us by the war. And yet, as we dance and sing and feast and frolic, we should be mindful of our soldiers called up to duty. And we must remember, as all living and sentient creatures do, that the life we have today may be utterly changed by tomorrow.

  “Change approaches as inevitably as the seasons. I urge you not to succumb to the rumors of threat to Shiz that abound this week, but savor every moment the Unnamed God confers upon you. What will happen next week, next season, next year, we will take in its turn. Meanwhile, in the shadow of the hallowed buildings of this ancient university, let us know ourselves to be alive. Whether we are the next generation to study peaceably in this haven or we are the final generation, let us study what we can. Learn what we can. Deliver what we have to whomever comes after, whether they sit in rubble and ashes or strut in finery upon the streets during Scandal Day.”

  He had to blow his nose, and his wife led him off the stage. No one had the slightest idea what he was talking about.

  Madame Chard, the next day, offered a little enlightenment. “I went into a pub—only to visit the conveniences,” she admitted, “and the talk I heard there would have cured your bacon, believe me. In wartime all kinds of nonsense circulates, and we know from history that the enemy will use rumors to terrify the brave patriots at home. Still, you young ladies are old enough to take in what is being said, I believe, if you promise not to frighten the younger girls with the news. It’s being whispered that Shiz has been selected as a new target by the Munchkinlanders. No one knows how an attack will come, as of course our brave army is holding the Munchkinlanders off in the Madeleines.”

  “Holding them off?” asked Miss Igivly. “I thought we were invading them.” Miss Igilvy isn’t as frivolous as she seems, thought Rain.

  “Tactics, strategies; ours not to question the military mind,” replied Madame Chard. “But spies among us may be targeting Shiz for special attack. Perhaps localized explosions to frighten the populace. We shall stand firm. We shall not be moved.”

  By the time Miss Ironish returned home a few days later, many of the girls had been moved. Their families had swum up out of nowhere to collect their precious daughters. Graduation was held in the dining hall, since the chapel was too large and would have pointed up the thinning of the ranks.

  Rain avoided Scarly and Tip, both, trying not to be obvious about it. But the third evening after they had returned, Scarly showed up in Rain’s room and pressed her to talk to Tip.

  “I have nothing special to say to him,” said Rain.

  “He needs to talk to you,” she replied. “Don’t ask me why.”

  Well, that’s something, thought Rain, so the next day, in as casual a manner as she could, she found a way to sidle up to him in the buttery pantry as she was helping to clear the luncheon things away. “Yoo hoo,” she said, sounding brittle even to herself. “I have a present for you.”

  His eyebrows raised at the sight of the map. “You weaseled this out of the Bear? How could you do that?”

  “I weaseled nothing. He told us we could come back and buy it later. Why are you so huffy?”

  “Never mind. I’m just—surprised.”

  She felt horrible and couldn’t say why. “Well, you wanted to see me,” she continued, all Ironish.

  He shared the news about a suspected attack upon Shiz. It was all the word in the Emerald City, he said. “Yes, I’m aware of that,” she replied. “I’m not blind to the fact that the school population has been cut in half. But why do you think it should concern me?”

  “Well, I shouldn’t want you to be caught in an attack,” he said, as if bemused she should have to ask.

  “Don’t worry over me. You have yourself to think about.”

  “Isn’t there a way to contact your mother? She won’t want you left here in danger, surely?”

  “I think it’s all blather. Madame Streetflye flutters, ‘Speculation! designed—to, to … intimidate us!’ Tip, life seems the same to me as ever, if just that little bit more tedious.”

  “I don’t know. In the EC they’re murmuring that the enemy has gotten its hands on some profoundly dangerous and powerful book of magic. If La Mombey, who is something of a sorceress, actually has it in her possession, and can decode it, there’s no telling what havoc may be unleashed upon us.”

  “A book of magic?” Rain felt light-headed. “Where was it found? What is it called? How long have they had it?”
/>   “I can’t answer any of those things. For all I know this is only one of your rumors, as you would have it. Designed to give a psychological upper hand to the Munchkinlanders. But that’s what they’re saying on every street corner of the EC. Proctor Clapp was devastated at the prospects; his sister says he’s quite shattered by his experiences and may never be the same.”

  “Those aren’t rumors,” said Rain. “I must leave—I must leave tonight. Can you help me get out?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I’ve changed my mind. I mean about the threat of empty rumors. If the Grimmerie has been acquired by anyone—by either of the antagonists—”

  “Yes, that’s the name of it. The Grimmerie. How did you know?”

  “Never mind. The danger is real. And I must go. I can’t say why, nor where. I must go. And you must go, too. Get out of Shiz.”

  “You care that much about me?” His tone half taunting, half skeptical.

  “If they’ve got the Grimmerie, they won’t hesitate to use it. Everyone tells me so. The war is bleeding both countries dry, and whoever has a fiercer weapon will punish their enemy with it. You’re in danger here if the Munchkinlanders have actually found the book. You have to go.”

  “What about Madame Chard?” asked Tip. “Or Miss Ironish? Or Miss Igilvy, or Scarly? Or the others?”

  “They’re all in danger, but I can’t spend a week convincing them. I’ll tell Miss Ironish right now, and she’ll have to use her powers as proctress to decide what to do with the information. But no matter what happens, I’m leaving tonight. You should too.”

  “I have no place to go,” he said.

  “Use the map I gave you and find one,” she couldn’t help snapping.

  Miss Ironish saw her into the study. She had aged in the year since Rain had arrived. Her eyes were sunk into dark sockets and her skin had become crepey. “Miss Rainary, I have only a moment for you. I am not in the habit of having private interviews with my girls unless I call for them.”

  “Thank you for seeing me, Miss Ironish.” Rain explained her concerns—that she believed the threat to Shiz wasn’t propaganda designed to scare the citizens of the city, but was real.

  “If our enemy has acquired a weapon that might turn the tide of the war in their favor,” said Miss Ironish, “I doubt they’d bother to use it on our fair city. Symbolic of achievement though we may be, we are still only a provincial capital. The Emperor of Oz rules from the Emerald City and that’s where the war will be lost, should we lose it. And we could never lose it; Oz is too vast to be governed by the little people of the east.”

  “I don’t know which city is more deserving of attack,” said Rain. “Maybe because Shiz is the college town of Oz, Munchkinlanders feel it would be a more terrible blow to crush it. Or maybe they intend to, like, practice their new technique of assault here? And frighten the EC into submission? So Loyal Oz might sue for peace? To preserve the palace and the administration buildings from devastation?”

  “Govern yourself. Panic is a folly, Miss Rainary. I’m impressed though by your colorful language.”

  “I don’t care. I just want you to know that the threat is real, and you should do everything you can to protect yourself, your teachers, Cook, the maids, the girls. It is your duty.”

  “I will not be told my duty by a student.” Eyes blazing, Miss Ironish stood up. “I will not honor you by asking you on what basis you draw your conclusions. You are criminally impertinent. I shall consider your punishment. Miss Rainary, you are dismissed.”

  Rain stood there, wringing her hands.

  “Get out of my study, I said.”

  That night Miss Ironish saw to it that the wonky stable door, which Tip had foolishly repaired as part of his chores, was bolted tightly. Then she locked the door to the annex, sealing Rain inside. “I may open the door in time for your breakfast, such as it is these days,” shrilled Miss Ironish through the door, “or I may not. Think upon your disgrace, Miss Rainary.”

  Rain wasn’t sharply surprised, once the lights had gone out all over the school, to hear footsteps on the stairs. Tip arrived with a small satchel of clothes on his back.

  “I saw her storming about like a maniac,” he said. “Muttering your name. And since you said you were leaving, I hid downstairs before she locked you in. I know mere locks won’t hold you.”

  “I hardly know how I am going to get out,” said Rain, though she had packed a few clothes herself, and some rolls she had smuggled from dinner. She left behind the single rock, the feather, the acorn, the arrowhead. She had packed the large pink shell, though.

  “Isn’t it obvious how you’re going to leave?”

  It wasn’t, until he pointed a finger skyward.

  He went up the ladder first. Remembering the time their shoulders had grazed, she waited until he had clambered out of the hatch. She lifted Tay through, and then followed. She had never looked over the roofs of Shiz at night. It was beautiful, but less distinct than she might have imagined. Maybe people were darkening their windows or conserving their oil, as month by month the prices of staples had continued to rise. She could make out the famous dome of St. Florix most easily, a dark perfect mound against a velvet sky that, as it rose, became pinned in place with frozen stars.

  “Up is easy,” whispered Tip. “Down is tricky.” But they made it quickly enough across the leads, monkeying themselves groundward via rain gutters and downspouts and old dead ivy whose thick espaliered limbs had never been carved away from the back of the stables.

  Once at the street level, Rain said, “Which way are you going?”

  He answered, without catching her eye, “Which way are you going?”

  Rain hesitated, then pointed west.

  “Then I’m going that way too.”


  She argued furiously with him for half the night. She didn’t need a chaperone. She wasn’t scared to be on her own anymore. In fact, she said, she’d never been scared to be on her own.

  He countered by saying that since he hadn’t applied for a job at St. Prowd’s he didn’t have to apply for permission to leave. He happened to be walking on the road from Shiz at the same hour and in the same direction she was going. What was wrong with that?

  Often she sunk into black silences. She wasn’t used to arguing. She’d lived in her own world so much, she’d never had to apologize for it, nor explain. So a traveling partner her own age—even one she liked when she wasn’t arguing with him—was going to be a burden of sorts.

  “You know,” she said, “if I have gotten older since we met, so have you. And while you might be young enough not to have been called up to service during this round of inductions, if you stand still in a public place like Shiz you’ll be old enough to be fingered the next time, certainly.”

  “You’re certain about a lot of things of which you have no notion.”

  “Explain,” she said. “Prove me wrong, then.”

  But he changed the subject. “Where are you going? Off to find your mother?”

  “In a matter of speaking,” she said, for she hadn’t entirely lost her habit of reticence, even though St. Prowd’s, and indeed the bricked walls of Shiz, were now several hours behind them.

  The moon had risen. Tonight it looked without character. Just a disc cut out of paper and fastened with sticky string to the sky. A smell of arugula and basil pushed up from small cottage farms sunk a few feet below the high road. The wind was rousing but warm. No one was about except anonymous animals scrabbling in the hedgerows. Once they heard the low of a pained cow that some unreliable farmhand had forgotten to milk. Tip was unhappy about that cow and wanted to scurry off to help her, and Rain said, “Go ahead, do that good deed, but I must keep on the road as long as my legs will carry me,” so he left the cow in her misery and kept pace with Rain.

  Gillikin west of Shiz.

  “Where are you going?” he asked.

  She didn’t answer, but when they came to a crossroads where a st
one gave several choices—a boon, this moonlit night!—the fifth of five choices said simply THE WEST. That road looked the most desperate, and she struck out along that one, though the striking was slowing down some, and eventually they stopped to sleep a little. They burrowed under a hedgerow, mightily irritating some birds and some sort of family reunion of mice. Was it only a dream that they were talking to her? “If you’re headed for the Kells, you’ve chosen well enough. But once you reach the Gillikin River follow it to your left until the mountains come in sight. You will have crossed into the Vinkus by then, and be near enough to ask directions to Kiamo Ko.”

  She woke before Tip did. His hand was on her breast, and he slept with his mouth open. Tay dozed greenly between them, closer to both than they could dare be to each other. She hadn’t heard Tip breathing in his sleep for what seemed like such a long time. She began to cry for no reason she could name. Tay stirred and licked Rain’s tears off her face with its sandpaper tongue.

  Once there had been a mouseskin in a field. It had been on her finger. She had wanted to be a mouse. She had wanted to be something other than what she was. She had had so many chances, and she had passed so many of them by.

  I must have become what Madame Chortlebush calls a teenmonster, crying for nothing, and feeling my life is over. She warned us about this, thought Rain.

  “Wake up, it’s not morning but it’s light enough to walk,” she said to Tip, but she didn’t move, for she didn’t want his hand to slip away an instant sooner than it needed to.

  He woke and shuddered and seemed not to notice he had been touching her. He shuffled to the other side of the hedge and let loose a long confident stream of pee, standing up. She turned her head away and softly smiled to herself, and couldn’t say why.

  The road grew rougher, less traveled; and while there were farmers about, with carts and animals, no one paid the young walkers much mind. Well, Rain hardly looked like a St. Prowd’s girl, having slept in her best dress, which was never very good to start with. And Tip had left behind the penitential uniform that Miss Ironish had insisted he wear. They looked like brother and sister traipsing along, since they were too young still to be—to be anything else.