Chapter 6a

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At the dining hall that evening, supper was awkward. Raymond and Thea—along with all our other friends—wanted to know why I’d been called to Master Fenrey’s study. I mumbled some reply about working with Nadine on something and that I couldn’t talk about it. I had a feeling I didn’t fool Raymond or Thea, but the others all seemed impressed that Dame Fairchild had asked my help with a secret project. 

Knowing what that project really was made me lose my appetite. 

As soon as I could make my excuses to Raymond and Thea, I rushed off to get ready for my first meeting with Presul Wolff and Delphine. I didn’t bother changing out of my apprentice uniform, but I did take my hair down from the bun and braided it loosely over my shoulder. By now, I was so tired that just the walk to the presul’s office left me out of breath and a bit lightheaded. 

The offices for presuls and other directors were on the top floor of the theater complex, tucked back in the maze of stairways and wooden-floored corridors high above the main stage. I loved how no one would guess from the public areas of the theater that this backstage world even existed. 

The corridor, lit by the glow of gas lamps, was silent and felt deserted. The soft yellow light reflected off a weird assortment of theater debris cluttering the hall: a gilded throne, a papier-mâché lion painted to look like marble, framed posters of previous shows, bright red window frames with panes made of sugar glass, dress forms clothed in costumes from last year’s production of Romeo and Juliet. I nearly knocked over three bolts of fabric taller than me. 

My boots clicked loudly on the polished wood floor as I looked for the side hallway leading to Dietrich Wolff’s office. I’d never been there before, but he’d given Delphine and me directions earlier. It was at the end of a short hall, separated a little from the other offices. 

The door was open slightly. I tapped on it and then gave it a push. “Hello?” 

“Miss Mellor, come in.” Presul Wolff stood from his desk and crossed the room to take my hand. He bowed over it as if I were a lady making a social call instead of an unimportant apprentice. He wore no gloves, and his bare skin felt warm against mine. Something flared in me, hot and a little painful, like running my finger through a candle flame.  

I slid my hand from his grasp. “Good evening, Presul Wolff,” I said, dropping a quick curtsey. I looked around—no Delphine yet. 

 He gestured to two small, carved wingback chairs in the corner of the office and took my apprentice bag from me. “Please have a seat. Would you care for some tea?” The serving staff at the theater kept the Guild members well-supplied with hot water for tea. 

“Yes, thank you.” I took one of the chairs. It was much more comfortable than the parlor chairs in Nadine’s apartment had been.

The china teacups seemed delicate and small in his palms, but he handled them gracefully as he prepared the tea. 

The light from the gas lamps on the wall cast a cozy, warm glow in an office that felt more like a man’s personal library. Bookshelves ran floor to ceiling along the wall behind my chair. They were loaded with books on topics from theater to science, from novels to children’s fairy tales. Their covers looked worn and well-loved. I gazed at them with the same sort of hunger as some of my friends looked at the marzipan candy lining the display window of Miss Tabitha’s Sweet Shop. What would it be like to own so many books? It made me feel envious, but also somewhat less afraid of the presul—a fellow book-lover couldn’t be too dangerous, right?

He brought me a cup and saucer, but didn’t take the chair next to me. Instead, he leaned against his wooden desk in the opposite corner of the room and watched me sip my tea. I couldn’t help noticing how fine he looked—he had changed to a wine-colored velvet smoking jacket over a dark gray vest and tan cravat. To my knowledge, he didn’t actually smoke, but many men preferred the comfort of smoking jackets in the evening. His dark hair just brushed the collar of his jacket, the fashionably messy locks glinting in the soft light. His eyes were shadowed, but I could feel them studying me. Probing. Asking me silent questions I couldn’t, wouldn’t answer. 

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