Chapter Four (part II)

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I woke too early the next morning, cramping and bloody.

Shivering, with shaking hands, I dragged myself out of bed, stole a rag from the kitchen, and rinsed out my shift, muttering curses under my breath all the while -- as if things weren't quite bad enough without having to run about in a wet shift, hurting so.

The single advantage of it all was that it was still so early, I had an hour and more to spare before it'd be time to wake Mr. Woolsey, and this gave me an hour and more to set my own business in order.

I fetched water and lit all the fires, taking a good long look at Mr. Woolsey's desk while I was in the office. The sun had barely warmed the sky, and gloomy shadows stretched through the whole room, but I thought the scene was, perhaps, not so bad as I had feared. Perhaps, if Mr. Woolsey was not particularly mindful about how full or empty his inkwell was, he wouldn't even notice anything amiss... But I left my notes, all the same. I had taken paper, and I had spilled ink.

Still tying on my cap, I slipped out the kitchen door and hurried up the North hill to the the new post office.

I begged a dollop of wax from the postmaster, which he gave me cheerfully enough, then I sent off my letter to Miss Goodwin, asked directions to Riverton Stationer, and trotted over the hill to get a bottle of ink. Happily, I arrived just after Mr. Greenley had opened his shop. Unhappily, he was not so cheerful as the postmaster, nor was he as helpful.

He ignored me as I came through the door, his energies engaged with the sorting of rumpled papers into three separate piles. He ignored me still as I scanned the sparsely-appointed shelves, and he seemed inclined to keep ignoring me even when I said, "I beg your pardon, sir..."

With a sigh and a heave of his bony shoulders, he glowered up at me, one corner of his lip curled. "Yes?"

"I need a bottle of ink. Black ink."

"I only have purple or brown."

My eyes drifted to the shelves behind him, where bottles of black sat in plain sight beside the purples and browns. I tried to not frown. "But..."

"Purple or brown. Two Shields."

"Two Shields...! For ink? That's... Why, that's pure robbery!"

Mr. Greenley pressed his hands against the counter, his thin veneer of civility worn entirely through.

"Hear now, girl. I barely have stock enough for men with real business. If you want to write your little letters that badly, it's two Shields. Purple or brown."

I lifted my chin. "It's not for me. It's for Mr. Woolsey."

"The Chief Clerk Investigator...?" Mr. Greenley straightened -- as much as he could -- his forehead wrinkling as his eyebrows shot high. "I beg your pardon, Miss. You should have said so." He reached for the black ink. "I'll put it on his account."

He laid the bottle on the counter, and I scooped it up before he could change his mind. "No, I'll pay for it now."

The stationer murmured, "Very well, Miss," hunching up one shoulder in a largely indifferent sort of a shrug. He made a note on one of his papers. "That'll be one Boar."

This was still twice what a bottle of black ink should cost, but that was at least understandable, considering half the city was still underwater. I gave him the coin, and he gave me a slip of paper in return, saying, "Your receipt, Miss. Wouldn't you like me to wrap that up for you...?"

"No, you've done quite well enough, thank you." I gave him a tight smile and wished him a good morning, every word a lie.

I stewed all the way back up the hill, but I vowed to put the rude little man behind me and mostly succeeded. By the time I slipped through the kitchen door, I felt triumphant and hopeful, reckoning I had a half hour or more to spare -- time enough to put on the groats and boil water and sweep out Mr. Woolsey's office.

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