Chapter Seven (part I)

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I stood trembling in his office for long moments after he'd gone. As soon as it seemed unlikely he'd turn back for some forgotten thing, I read Miss Goodwin's letter -- I didn't even have to touch it; Mr. Woolsey had left it on his desk, and I only had to lean my head a bit to see each word clearly. She had written just what I'd told her to.

I fretted about the kitchen, accomplishing very little, imagining all the worst things that could happen. Eventually, I convinced myself Miss Goodwin would not have written as E. Wright if there wasn't someone in Swinton to convey a reply to her. I had to trust she would know how to circumvent Mr. Woolsey's circumvention.

I was calm again, if not quite happy, by the time Mr. Woolsey returned. He asked for a cup of tea and settled at his desk, and the rest of the day passed as was usual.

The next morning, however, would prove unusual -- not that I minded it. Mr. Woolsey came downstairs with a bag packed and informed me that he had an errand out of town.

"I'll be back in perhaps a week..." he said, checking that his papers were in his coat pocket for a second and then a third time. "No more than ten days."

I curtsied and said, "Yes, sir," trying to be properly docile, though in truth, I was giddy. It was less than a week til my birthday. I could do as I pleased with it, for Mr. Woolsey would simply be away...! It was a better gift than I'd thought to wish for. And better still, I'd been given an opportunity, at last.

As soon as the door shut behind Mr. Woolsey, I put on the kettle. I drank a cup of tea and watched the kitten chase butterflies in the garden, then I went up to my room and took the most magnificent nap.

I spent the rest of the day snooping.

Though I was all alone, I crept into Mr. Woolsey's office with a racing heart and trembling hands. I went first to his case files. These were kept in his desk, in a tall bank of shallow drawers, each labelled in Mr. Woolsey's neat, square hand. Toward the bottom, there was a drawer labelled Ewert Town that I'd had my eye on for some time.

Inside, I found a few scraps about who had married whom and a note about Darlene Roberts, which chilled me to the bone. I lingered over it a moment, wondering if I wasn't very foolish to find it so unnerving. It said only, Darlene (1/4) eldest, Grover Roberts & Ethelwin Darwulf, which was all common knowledge.

There was nothing of any more interest among the scraps. I put them away and searched through all the other drawers and cubbies of Mr. Woolseys' desk, finding nothing I didn't already suspect was there -- writing paper, receipts, the ledger -- til I came across a drawer stuffed full of letters.

I took my time reading through these, stacking the read and the unread carefully so they remained in just the order and orientation I had found them in. They were almost exclusively responses to inquiries Mr. Woolsey had sent out: Yes, Harold Shaw was born twelfth Sowingmonth in Bitterbeck; In truth, Hope Lingfield's maiden name was Wolflaed; In answer to your inquiry, prisoner #1206 was named Freeman Brand...

My heart nearly stopped. The letter was written by the warden of Leithbury Prison, addressed only to Chief Clerk Investigator and dated twenty-first Harvesttide 526 -- little more than a week before I'd left Ewert.

The letter felt tremendously significant, but it told me nothing, really. I read it over again and again, my heart filling drip by drip with frustration and a little disgust, and then I put it in the pile with the others.

There was nothing of interest to me in the other letters. I frowned at Mr. Woolsey's desk a moment, opened a few drawers at random and closed them again without looking in them, for I'd looked in them already. Something niggled at me, a vague feeling of something amiss... But the feeling passed, and so I turned to the tall shelves.

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