“What happens if they don’t?”
She raised a fluttering hand to her brow and staggered back, pantomiming horror. “Catastrophe, cataclysm, disaster! I dare not even think of it. Fortunately, the mechanism by which loops are reset is a simple one: One of us must cross through the entryway every so often. This keeps it pliable, you see. The ingress point is a bit like a hole in fresh dough; if you don’t poke a finger into it now and then the thing may just close up on its own. And if there’s no ingress or egress—no valve through which may be vented the various pressures that accrue naturally in a closed temporal system—” She made a little poof! gesture with her hands, as if miming the explosion of a firecracker. “Well, the whole thing becomes unstable.”
She bent over the album again and riffled through its pages. “Speaking of which, I may have a picture of—yes, here it is. An ingress point if ever there was one!” She pulled another picture from its sleeve. “This is Miss Finch and one of her wards in the magnificent entryway to Miss Finch’s loop, in a rarely used portion of the London Underground. When it resets, the tunnel fills with the most terrific glow. I’ve always thought our own rather modest by comparison,” she said with a hint of envy.
“Just to make sure I understand,” I said. “If today is September third, 1940, then tomorrow is … also September third?”
“Well, for a few of the loop’s twenty-four hours it’s September second, but, yes, it’s the third.”
“So tomorrow never comes.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Outside, a distant clap of what sounded like thunder echoed, and the darkening window rattled in its frame. Miss Peregrine looked up and again drew out her watch.
“I’m afraid that’s all the time I have at the moment. I do hope you’ll stay for supper.”
I said that I would; that my father might be wondering where I was hardly crossed my mind. I squeezed out from behind the desk and began following her to the door, but then another question occurred to me, one that had been nagging at me for a long time.
“Was my grandfather really running from the Nazis when he came here?”
“He was,” she said. “A number of children came to us during those awful years leading up to the war. There was so much upheaval.” She looked pained, as if the memory was still fresh. “I found Abraham at a camp for displaced persons on the mainland. He was a poor, tortured boy, but so strong. I knew at once that he belonged with us.”
I felt relieved; at least that part of his life was as I had understood it to be. There was one more thing I wanted to ask, though, and I didn’t quite know how to put it.
“Was he—my grandfather—was he like …”
She smiled strangely. “He was like you, Jacob.” And she turned and hobbled toward the stairs.
* * *
Miss Peregrine insisted that I wash off the bog mud before sitting down to dinner, and asked Emma to run me a bath. I think she hoped that by talking to me a little, Emma would start to feel better. But she wouldn’t even look at me. I watched as she ran cold water into the tub and then warmed it with her bare hands, swirling them around until steam rose.
“That is awesome,” I said. But she left without saying a word in response.
Once I’d turned the water thoroughly brown, I toweled off and found a change of clothes hanging from the back of the door—baggy tweed pants, a button-up shirt, and a pair of suspenders that were far too short but that I couldn’t figure out how to adjust. I was left with the choice of wearing the pants either around my ankles or hitched up to my bellybutton. I decided the latter was the lesser of evils, so I went downstairs to have what would likely be the strangest meal of my life while dressed like a clown without makeup.
Dinner was a dizzying blur of names and faces, many of them half-remembered from photographs and my grandfather’s long-ago descriptions. When I came into the dining room, the kids, who’d been clamoring noisily for seats around the long table, froze and stared at me. I got the feeling they didn’t get a lot of dinner guests. Miss Peregrine, already seated at the head of the table, stood up and used the sudden quiet as an opportunity to introduce me.
“For those of you who haven’t already had the pleasure of meeting him,” she announced, “this is Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. He is our honored guest and has come a very long way to be here. I hope you will treat him accordingly.” Then she pointed to each person in the room and recited their names, most of which I immediately forgot, as happens when I’m nervous. The introductions were followed by a barrage of questions, which Miss Peregrine batted away with rapid-fire efficiency.
“Is Jacob going to stay with us?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Abe is busy in America.”
“Why does Jacob got Victor’s trousers on?”
“Victor doesn’t need them anymore, and Mr. Portman’s are being washed.”
“What’s Abe doing in America?”
At this question I saw Emma, who had been glowering in a corner, rise from her chair and stalk out of the room. The others, apparently used to her volatile moods, paid no attention.
“Never mind what Abe’s doing,” Miss Peregrine snapped.
“When’s he coming back?”
“Never mind that, too. Now let’s eat!”
Everyone stampeded to their seats. Thinking I’d found an empty chair, I went to sit and felt a fork jab my thigh. “Excuse me!” cried Millard. But Miss Peregrine made him give it up anyway, sending him out to put on clothes.
“How many times must I tell you,” she called after him, “polite persons do not take their supper in the nude!”
Kids with kitchen duty appeared bearing trays of food, all covered with gleaming silver tops so that you couldn’t see what was inside, sparking wild speculation about what might be for dinner.
“Otters Wellington!” one boy cried.
“Salted kitten and shrew’s liver!” another said, to which the younger children responded with gagging sounds. But when the covers were finally lifted, a feast of kingly proportions was revealed: a roasted goose, its flesh a perfect golden brown; a whole salmon and a whole cod, each outfitted with lemons and fresh dill and pats of melting butter; a bowl of steamed mussels; platters of roasted vegetables; loaves of bread still cooling from the oven; and all manner of jellies and sauces I didn’t recognize but that looked delicious. It all glowed invitingly in the flicker of gaslight lamps, a world away from the oily stews of indeterminate origin I’d been choking down at the Priest Hole. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and proceeded to stuff myself silly.