Home > Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)(8)

Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)(8)
Author: Cassandra Clare

“That’s my father’s port,” said James. It was strong stuff, he knew, and very sweet. “You’ll be vilely ill in the morning.”

“Carpe decanter,” said Matthew. “It’s good port. I’ve always admired your father, you know. Planned to be like him one day. Though I once knew a warlock who had three arms. He could duel with one hand, shuffle a deck of cards with the next, and untie a lady’s corset with the third, all at the same time. Now there was a chap to emulate.”

“You’re already foxed,” said James disapprovingly, and reached down to seize the decanter out of Matthew’s hand. Matthew was too quick for him, though, and swung it out of reach while rising up to clasp James’s arm. He yanked him off the table, and in a moment they were rolling on the carpet like puppies, Matthew laughing uncontrollably, James trying to wrestle the bottle away from him.

“Get—off—me!” Matthew wheezed, and let go. James fell backward with such force that the top of the decanter flew off. Port splashed over his clothes.

“Now look what you’ve done!” he lamented, using his pocket handkerchief to do what he could to mop up the scarlet stain spreading across his shirtfront. “I smell like a brewer and I look like a butcher.”

“Piffle,” said Matthew. “None of the girls care about your clothes anyhow. They’re all too busy gazing into your great big golden eyes.” He widened his eyes at James until he looked as if he were going mad. Then he crossed them.

James just frowned. His eyes were large, black-fringed, and the color of pale gold tea, but he’d been tormented too many times at school about his unusual eyes to find any pleasure in their uniqueness.

Matthew held out his hands. “Pax,” he said wheedlingly. “Let it be peace between us. You can pour the rest of the port on my head.”

James’s mouth curved up into a smile. It was impossible to stay angry with Matthew. It was almost impossible to get angry at Matthew. “Come with me to the ballroom and make up the numbers and we can call it peace.”

Matthew rose obediently—however much he’d drunk, he was always steady on his feet. He helped James up with a firm hand and straightened his jacket to cover the wine stain. “Do you want any of the port in you, or do you only want to wear it?” He offered James the decanter.

James shook his head. His nerves were already frayed, and though the port would soothe them, it would also muddle his thoughts. He wanted to remain sharp—in case. She might not come tonight, he knew. But then again, she might. It had been six months since her last letter, but now she was in London. He needed to be prepared for anything.

Matthew sighed as he set the bottle on the mantel. “You know what they say,” he said, as he and James left the room and began to wend their way back toward the party. “Drink, and you will sleep; sleep, and you will not sin; do not sin, and you will be saved; therefore, drink and be saved.”

“Matthew, you could sin in your sleep,” said a languorous voice.

“Anna,” said Matthew, sagging against James’s shoulder. “Have you been sent to fetch us?”

Lounging against the wall was James’s cousin Anna Lightwood, gorgeously dressed in fitted trousers and a pin-striped shirt. She had the Herondale blue eyes, always disconcerting for James to see, as it felt a bit as if his father were looking at him. “If by ‘fetch,’ you mean ‘drag you back to the ballroom by any means possible,’  ” Anna said. “There are girls who need someone to dance with them and tell them they look pretty, and I cannot do it all on my own.”

The musicians in the ballroom suddenly struck up a tune—a lively waltz.

“Crikey, not waltzing,” said Matthew, in despair. “I loathe waltzing.”

He began to back away. Anna seized him by the back of the coat. “Oh, no, you don’t,” she said, and firmly herded both of them toward the ballroom.

* * *

“Stop looking at yourself,” said Alastair, in a weary tone. “Why are women always looking at themselves? And why are you frowning?”

Cordelia glared into the pier glass at the reflection of her brother. They were all waiting outside the grand ballroom at the Institute, Alastair looking perfect in immaculate black and white, his blond hair slicked back with pomade, hands gloved in kidskin.

Because Mother dresses me, but she lets you wear whatever you like, she thought, but didn’t say it, since their mother was standing right there. Sona was determined to dress Cordelia in the height of fashion, even if the height of fashion didn’t suit her daughter at all. For tonight she’d chosen a dress for Cordelia of pale lilac edged with glittering bugle beads. Her hair was swept up into a waterfall of curls, and her swan-bill corset was making her breathless.

Cordelia was of the opinion that she looked awful. Pastels were all the rage in the fashion papers, but those papers expected girls to be blond, small-bosomed, and pale-skinned. Cordelia was decidedly none of those things. Pastels washed her out, and even the corset couldn’t flatten her chest. Nor was her dark red hair thin and fine: it was thick and long like her mother’s, reaching to her waist when brushed out. It looked ridiculous in tiny curls.

“Because I have to wear a corset, Alastair,” she snapped. “I was checking to see if I’d turned plum-colored.”

“You’d match your dress if you did,” Alastair noted. Cordelia couldn’t help but wish her father were there; he always told her she looked beautiful.

“Children,” said their mother reprovingly. Cordelia had the feeling she would address them as “children” even when they were old and gray and sniping at one another from Bath chairs. “Cordelia, corsets not only create a womanly shape, they show that a lady is finely bred and of delicate sensibilities. Alastair, leave your sister alone. This is a very important evening for all of us, and we must be mindful to make a good impression.”

Cordelia could sense her mother’s unease that she was the only woman in the room wearing a roosari over her hair, her worry that she lacked the knowledge of who the powerful people in the room were, when she would have known it immediately in the salons of the Tehran Institute.

Things would all be different after tonight, Cordelia told herself again. It didn’t matter whether her dress was hideous on her: what mattered was that she charm the influential Shadowhunters in the room who could effect an introduction to the Consul for her. She would make Charlotte understand—she would make them all understand—that her father might be a poor strategist, but it was no reason for him to be in jail. She would make them understand that the Carstairs family had nothing to hide.

She would make her mother smile.

The ballroom doors opened and there was Tessa Herondale in rose chiffon, with small roses in her hair. Cordelia doubted she needed to wear a corset. She was already quite ethereal-looking. It was hard to believe she was the woman who had taken down an army of metal monsters.

“Thank you for waiting,” she said. “I did want to bring you in all together and make the introductions. Everyone is just dying to meet you. Come, come!”

She led them into the ballroom. Cordelia had a faint memory of playing here with Lucie when it had been quite deserted. Now it was full of light and music.

Gone were the heavily brocaded walls of years ago and the massive velvet hangings. Everything was airy and bright, the walls lined with pale wooden benches padded with gold-and-white-striped cushions. A frieze of golden birds darting among trees ran above the curtains—if you looked closely, you could see that they were herons. Hung on the walls was an assortment of ornamental weapons—swords in jeweled scabbards, bows carved of ivory and jade, daggers with pommels in the shapes of sunbursts and angel wings.

Most of the floor had been cleared for dancing, but there was a sideboard laden with glasses and pitchers of iced lemonade. A few tables draped in white were scattered around the room. Older married ladies and some younger ones who didn’t have dancing partners clustered at the walls, busying themselves with gossip.

Cordelia’s gaze instantly searched out Lucie and James. She found Lucie at once, dancing with a young man with sandy hair, but she scanned the room for James’s tousled dark hair in vain. He did not seem to be here.

Not that there was time to dwell on it. Tessa was an expert hostess. Cordelia and her family were whisked from group to group, the introductions made, their virtues and values enumerated. She was introduced to a dark-haired girl a few years older than herself, who looked entirely at ease in a pale green dress trimmed with lace. “Barbara Lightwood,” said Tessa, and Cordelia perked up as they curtsied to each other. The Lightwoods were cousins of James and Lucie’s, and a powerful family in their own right.

Her mother fell immediately into conversation with Barbara’s parents, Gideon and Sophie Lightwood. Cordelia fixed her gaze on Barbara. Would she be interested in hearing about her father? Probably not. She was looking out at the dance floor with a smile on her face.

“Who’s the boy dancing with Lucie?” Cordelia asked, which provoked a surprising burst of laughter from Barbara.

“That’s my brother, Thomas,” she said. “And not tripping over his own feet, for a change!”

Cordelia took another look at the sandy-haired boy laughing with Lucie. Thomas was very tall and broad-shouldered, intimidatingly so. Did Lucie fancy him? If she’d mentioned him in her letters, it was only as one of her brother’s friends.

Alastair, who had been standing at the edge of the group looking bored—truthfully, Cordelia had nearly forgotten he was there—suddenly brightened. “Charles!” he said, sounding pleased. He smoothed down the front of his waistcoat. “If you’ll excuse me, I must go pay my respects. We haven’t seen each other in an age.”

He vanished between the tables without waiting for permission. Cordelia’s mother sighed. “Boys,” she said. “So vexing.”

Sophie smiled at her daughter, and Cordelia noticed for the first time the vicious scar that slashed across her cheek. There was something about her vivaciousness, the way she moved and spoke, that caused one not to see it at first. “Girls have their moments,” she observed. “You should have seen Barbara and her sister, Eugenia, when they were children. Absolute horrors!”

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