Chapter Three (part II)

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The shortnight came, and the sun rose again on a new year, filling me with an unjustified hope for brighter days ahead -- a hope ground to dust by the succession of wet and gray and dreary days that followed. The rain came down so hard, even the Laithbruns rarely ventured out of doors.

The Duke's Bed suddenly seemed too small, the moments of quiet too brief. Little Rose cut a new tooth and fussed much, keeping us all awake through the night. And though no one complained, we were all tired and our tempers strained. Wilberta bickered with Hildaswinth. Wilfrida whined. The Laithbruns took swings at each other out of pure boredom. Bram and Ruby kept calling each other Mrs. Turner and Mr. Fowler as if they weren't in love, which irritated everyone. And I grew terribly, terribly, restless.

I tried to help more as my strength returned to me, but I was underfoot more often than not, and someone or another would shoo me out of the way, telling me I should go rest. We had all fallen into our places, we sixteen, and there simply wasn't enough room for the Poor Drowned Child to be out of bed. I rather wished I could go live in the shed -- in truth, I reckon we all did.

The tenth of Frostmonth brought change, if not relief. The planks nailed over the doors and windows of The Boar's Head were pried off; the dead were catalogued by the Ministry and buried in a ditch, and the survivors were deemed very lucky, in Doctor Brown's professional opinion.

Mrs. Brewster was found among the lucky -- rather, she was found in the highest corner of the attic, in a nest of quilts and feather pillows and enough cheese and beer to feed her another week. Mr. Brewster was among the dead in the malting house. His body went into the ditch, the malting house was burned to the ground, and everyone was grateful for the unending rain.

On the twelfth, Bram began helping Mrs. Brewster put the business back in order, working long hours and returning to us filthy and exhausted and cranky. Every evening, he ate a bowl of beans, washed as well as he could, and fell asleep by the fire with little Rose in his arms.

Ruby spent most of her hours helping Thusnelda in the kitchen -- which seemed supremely unfair, since Thusnelda still shooed me out as soon as I stepped a foot in. Eventually, I was put in charge of looking after little Rose, which was so unnecessary it was almost insulting. If the girls weren't cuddling the child and teaching her songs and braiding her hair, the Laithbruns were bouncing her on their knees and playing as her pony.

By the fifteenth, I decided I must try to find work -- for my own sanity, if for no other reason. It seemed plain the only way I could help kith and kin was to go earn more coins, and if it got me out of The Duke's Bed a few hours, all the better.

I asked the Laithbruns to look for yarn so that I might sell knitting, or fleece and a wheel, so that I might spin, but they could find neither yarn nor fleece nor wheel. I asked Bram if Mrs. Brewster needed any help. He said he'd ask, but there was a gloominess in his manner, and I was not surprised when he returned that evening and spoke nothing of it. I even asked Doctor Brown if I could assist him in any way. He demurred, telling me, "Your health is still too fragile."

"Ach!" I flung up my hands, growling vexation. "I'm so bored and so restless and so useless! I weary of it! I tell ye true!"

Doctor Brown chuckled. "I'm pleased to hear it. This is an excellent indicator of your recovery."

I took some comfort in that, but only a little, since he still wouldn't let me help him.

By nineteen Frostmonth, I was feeling well and truly jealous of Ruby Turner, humming and puttering about in Thusnelda's kitchen like family, but then Bram came back that evening, and he did not eat beans and doze by the fire. Instead, he quietly told Ruby The Boar's Head was well enough in order again, and she and Rose could come back and sleep in their own beds that night, if they liked.

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