A wind began to get up after a while, and it carried a member of the Peccable family to the door. A gangling girl in her late teens or early twenties, dressed in a long coat and flower-print dress, who greeted the presence of two strangers in the house, one clearly recovering from injury, in a studiedly sanguine fashion.
“Are you friends of Papa’s?” she asked, removing her spectacles to reveal eyes that were severely crossed.
Dowd said they were and began to explain how they’d come to be here, but she politely asked him if he’d hold off his story until the house had been shuttered against the coming storm. She turned to Jude for help in this, and Dowd made no objection, correctly assuming that his captive was not going to venture out into an unknown city as a storm came upon it. So, with the first gusts already rattling the door, Jude followed Hoi-Polloi around the house, locking any windows that were open even an inch, then closing the shutters in case the glass was blown in.
Even though the sandy wind was already obscuring the distance, Jude got a glimpse of the city outside. It was frus-tratingly brief, but sufficient to reassure her that when she finally got to walk the streets of Yzordderrex her months of waiting would be rewarded with wonders. There were myriad tiers of streets set on the slopes above the house, leading up to the monumental walls and towers of what Hoi-Polloi identified as the Autarch’s palace, and just visible from the attic room window was the ocean, glittering through the thickening storm. But these were sights— ocean, rooftops, and towers—she might have seen in the Fifth. What marked this place as another Dominion was the people in the streets outside, some human, many not, all retreating from the wind or the commotions it carried. A creature, its head vast, stumbled up the street with what looked to be two sharp-snouted pigs, barking furiously, under each arm. A group of youths, bald and robed, ran in the other direction, swinging smoking censers above their heads like bolas. A man with a canary-yellow beard and china-doll skin was carried, wounded but yelling furiously, into a house opposite.
“There’s riots everywhere,” Hoi-Polloi said. “I wish Papa would come home.”
“Where is he?” Jude asked.
“Down at the harbor. He had a shipment coming in from the islands.”
“Can’t you telephone him?”
“Telephone?” Hoi-Polloi said.
“Yes, you know, it’s a—”
“I know what it is,” Hoi-Polloi said testily. “Uncle Oscar showed me one. But they’re against the law.”
Hoi-Polloi shrugged. “The law’s the law,” she said. She peered out into the storm before shuttering the final window. “Papa will be sensible,” she went on. “I’m always telling him, Be sensible, and he always is.”
She led the way downstairs to find Dowd standing on the front step, with the door flung wide. Hot, gritty air blew in, smelling of spice and distance. Hoi-Polloi ordered Dowd back inside with a sharpness that made Jude fear for her, but Dowd seemed happy to play the erring guest and did as he was asked. She slammed the door and bolted it, then asked if anybody wanted tea. With the lights swinging in every room, and the wind rattling every loose shutter, it was hard to pretend nothing was amiss, but Hoi-Polloi did her best to keep the chat trivial while she brewed a pot of Darjeeling and passed around slices of Madeira cake. The sheer absurdity of the situation began to amuse Jude. Here they were having a tea party while a city of untold strangeness was racked by storm and revolution all around. If Oscar appears now, she thought, he’ll be most entertained. He’ll sit down, dunk his cake in his tea, and talk about cricket like a perfect Englishman.
“Where’s the rest of your family?” Dowd asked Hoi-Polloi, when the conversation once more returned to her absentee father.
“Mama and my brothers have gone to the country,” she said, “to be away from the troubles.”
“Didn’t you want to go with them?”
“Not with Papa here. Somebody has to look after him. He’s sensible most of the time, but I have to remind him.” A particularly vehement gust brought slates rattling off the roof like gunshots. Hoi-Polloi jumped. “If Papa was here,” she said, “I think he’d suggest we had something to calm our nerves.”