Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chapter Forty-Four



"How much did you say?!"

"Twernty circlies of silver."

I looked at the man and asked, "For oak galls?!"

I felt a tug on my pocket purse side and looked down in time to hear Liesel ask, "What are oak galls and what are they for?"

"They are growths on oak trees created when the trees defend themselves against a particularly nasty insect called a gall wasp and you use them to make black dye."  Not for the first time I thought to myself that something needed to be done and soon about the education that Rosalee and Liesel were receiving.  Daughters of a high-status family or not, some of their questions showed a sad lack of understanding of common household necessities.

"And are twernty circlies ..."

Sighing I corrected her.  "Twenty circles ... of silver ... and yes, that is expensive.  I picked them for free last season when I was living in Harper."

The man harrumphed and said, "Well you bain't in Harper no more.  You be in Little Linderton and that's the price I'm asking.  And you'll find no better price neither."

"Then you may keep your oak galls.  I'll go half mourning as people keep pushing me to before I'll pay such a ridiculous sum for such a paltry item.  Come along Liesel before your sister and Mrs. Talbot try and convince me to buy indigo and then get up to all sorts of larks and ideas that I'd rather they did not."

I tightened my hold on my pocket purse with one hand and took Liesel's hand with my other.  I had not expected Barter Market to draw such a crowd and certainly not such a crowd with the manners too many were exhibiting.  "Bah.  I should have stayed at Linderhall.  I would have gotten more done."

Someone tried to take the arm that I was holding my purse with and I swung.

"Ow!"

When I saw who it was I nearly stamped my foot.  "Serves you right.  Must you show up and get underfoot everywhere I go?"

Liesel clapped a hand to her mouth to try and hide her giggles but the Sheriff saw and mock-growled at his little sister.  He then rubbed his arm and asked, "What have you got in that thing?  A brick?"

"Of course not.  It is a mineral sample that was sitting upon the library's mantel."

"Oh ... of course," he muttered in such a tone as to cause Liesel to giggle even more.  He bowed in our direction and said, "I have come to see if you two fine ladies wish to dine al fresca in the park."

"I wish that you would stop being silly and get out of the road way before you are run down."  Liesel could no longer contain her giggles and started laughing contagiously causing many people to try and hide smiles of their own just from the sound of it.

The Sheriff for his part smiled broadly and said, "Your wish is my command Widow."  He proffered his arm leaving me no choice but to take it.  I still had hold of my pocket purse and Liesel and felt rather silly myself as we made our way through the mad crowds milling about like cattle in an enclosure too small to support them all.

When we reached the green belt the Sheriff drew us towards a blanketed area and I realized that people had arranged themselves by status.  I looked for my basket that I had packed after finding out that Liesel would be in my care for the day and found it parked nearly in the middle on the invisible line delineating the ladies of higher status who were congregated around Mrs. Linder and the Below Stairs women who arranged themselves around Mrs. Talbot and another woman whom I met earlier in the day and was informed to be Chell's travelling companion/midwife.

"Thank you Sheriff.  You may ..."

"Enjoy your company?  Thank you, I believe I will."

Giving him the same look that Sister Evelyn used to give the young novitiates that hadn't lost their silliness yet I said, "What theatrical are you playing?"

"One that keeps me from having to listen to another lecture on the finer strategies of tie colors and whether they should be matched with or contrasted with the rest of the male ensemble depending upon occasion and company."

I looked at him and could not honestly determine whether he was pulling a prank or not.  At that moment April Linder chose to join us and whispered, "Have some pity Widow.  If I have to listen to that loose screw brother in law of Chell's any more I'm likely to do something inexcusably extreme."

I looked between the two with suspicion until a shadow blocked my light and the Sheriff groaned quietly.  I looked up to see a young man posing and cocked an eyebrow at him before saying, "Yes, yes ... your plumage is admirable but if you do not sit and have something cool to drink your face is going to clash shockingly with the rest of you."  I looked over at Dr. Cummins who was caught trying not to strangle on the sip of tea he had just taken.  "Doctor, it has been much warmer this year than I remember it.  Perchance you can suggest a remedy that will allow the ladies to enjoy the finish of their shopping day without becoming too fatigued?"

"Actually I was just remarking that Mrs. Talbot provided a refreshing blend for just such an event."  He tipped his cup in her direction and said, "Excellent madam."

Mrs. Talbot looked wide-eyed at him before blooming into a blush and then quickly said, "Why ... why thank you kindly Doctor.  It still doesn't top that fine brew you provided for the men that took bad in the heat yesterday."

My alarm must have shown on my face because Mrs. Talbot said, "It's alright Widow.  Frankly it was their own fault.  The Doctor set a schedule the men were supposed to follow for hydration but being men they thought they knew best."  She rolled her eyes and that started a conversation on the Below Stairs side and allowed the higher-status side to return to their socializing in good form.

I looked over to see Tosha Linder looking as if she'd like to disappear and I asked a question of her.  "I hate to be a pest, especially when you are trying to relax and enjoy yourself but I was wondering if you had an opinion yet on that project we spoke of."

She excused herself and came over and sat down with us and quietly said, "Oh thank you.  James mentioned that you would be here."

I looked about for the young man but he'd suddenly disappeared.  "Goodness.  He does seem to move quickly in this heat does he not?"

The Sheriff snorted and said, "If my tail feathers had just been singed in such a manner I would move quickly as well."

"Doubtful," I told him.  "I believe yours must be made of iron for they simply won't singe no matter how I try."

April Linder laughed aloud and then quickly covered her mouth with her hand.  Even Tosha smiled and then we all decided to throw in our baskets together to make a lunch out of it for the girls and ourselves.

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