Tea and Talking

What a dismal morning it is! The sky outside is overcast, all the same colour of grey with no interesting shapes in the clouds--or rather, cloud, as it is all one great mass--to break up the monotony. The land we are passing through is just as boring, being all flat and pale brown with the occasional bush or cactus eking out an existence in this horrid desert. I hear it shall be like this for two days more, and have pulled the curtain on my little window to block it out. I shall imagine lush forests beyond it instead, with a blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds.

I have nothing at all to do today but read a romance I found in the gaming car (one of only a handful, I am sad to say), and write the rest of the tale I delayed in telling last night. Today is "chore day" for Adelaide and her siblings, and she shall be occupied all the time she is not running the food cart. I shall have no one to talk to, and cannot even watch the scenery pass because there is no scenery.

Very well, to continue: After making sure we'd been introduced, Adelaide returned to the kitchen for another chipped mug for Arthur, during which time he and I sat in slightly-awkward silence. Adelaide came back and sat next to me, instead of across from me as she had done before, and began to pour. Arthur, therefore, took the sofa opposite us, though he perched on the very edge and picked at the calluses on his hands, not looking at either of us.

"How long have you worked on the train, Mr. Matthews?" I asked, eager to break the tense silence I thought I had somehow caused, though I was not sure yet how I had done it.

"Oh, let's see.... Four or five years?"

"Five," Adelaide said, handing a cup to me, then one to Arthur, then taking the last for herself. I waited for her to add sugar to hers before stirring both sugar and milk into mine. Arthur took his plain.

"Five years," he echoed.

"And how did you come to have such an occupation?"

"My dad was killed in the war--I was three at the time--and my ma didn't remarry until just a few years ago, so we were always pretty poor. She took in sewing and washing, and my little brother and I did what we could, but all we could get were odd jobs here and there that didn't last long."

"That must've been very difficult for you all," I said sympathetically. Adelaide set her cup down on her saucer rather loudly, but looked apologetic for it a moment later.

He shrugged. "Not like we'd really known anything different. I mean, it wasn't fun, but it was... life, you know?" I nodded, having felt that way about my own life at times. "Anyway," he went on, "I was hanging around at the train station one day 'cuz there's always folk that'll pay to have their luggage carried from the train to their cab, and came across Mr. Kynton nailing up a notice. His last apprentice had tired of the work and left him, and he needed another one. It sounded like a good opportunity, as they'd feed and house me, as well as pay me a bit. So I got things squared away with Ma and Bill--my brother--as quick as I could, and left with 'em that night."

"And you've been here ever since?" I asked. He nodded. "Don't you miss your mother and brother?"

"I stop by and see 'em when we're in town, if Mr. Kynton can spare me. And I send 'em letters now and then, and part of my pay."

"More than half," Adelaide put in, sounding rather proud of him.

Arthur hung his head, though a slight smile was on his lips, and shrugged again. "They need it more than I do," he said. "My stepdad's... well, he's not much of a worker, and Ma still doesn't make much with her washing and sewing. Bill does what he can, but he's married now with a baby on the way, and can't spare much. I'm happy to do it."

"How very... heroic of you," I said, beaming at him. I couldn't think of a good enough word for what he was doing.

"Don't think I'd call it that," he chuckled, "but thanks."

"No, really," I insisted. "That's very noble of you. I've lived on charity my whole life. If it weren't for generous people like you, I wouldn't have had a home or an education or anything."

"What, you mean like.. on the dole?" he asked, looking uncomfortable at bringing up my acceptance of charity. Most people usually do.

"I grew up in an orphanage," I said.

He got the same look Adelaide had worn when I told her. It bothered me a little more, this time, though I do not know if that was because it was the second time I'd seen it in the space of a few minutes, or if it was because it was him. "I'm... I'm sorry," he stammered.

"Don't be." I made my tone cheerful. "I'm on this train going to track down any remaining relatives I might have, so it shall all turn out fine in the end."

"You think your parents are still out there somewhere?" he asked.

"They died in an airship crash when I was only a few months old," I said. "So no. But I hope to find, perhaps, their parents or siblings. Anyone."

Adelaide frowned down at her cup of tea. "If there were close family members still around," she said slowly, "why didn't they come and find you?"

That was the very question I had (mostly) successfully avoided all my life, and I wasn't about to face it now, not when I was so close to finding out for sure. I had to keep believing there was hope of a family out there somewhere. "I don't know. Perhaps there was an argument. Perhaps my mother's and father's families disowned them because they did not approve of the marriage. Perhaps they were not aware I had been born, for one reason or another. All I know is that I am going to discover what family I have left, no matter what."

My tone must have been strong enough, for neither of them asked anything further. Arthur held his saucer uneasily in both hands, and Adelaide kept her eyes on the untouched plate of biscuits on the table.

I felt badly, then, that I had made them uncomfortable, and wanted to make it up to Adelaide especially, though she had asked the wrong question in the first place. "These are my parents," I said, and opened the little locket I have worn around my neck since I was old enough to know what it was and what it meant. "This was my mother's, and besides the clothes I wore when I was brought to the orphanage, it is the only thing that is truly my own." I leaned over to show Adelaide the images within, and she touched the locket gently.

"You look very like her," she said of my mother.

"Thank you," I smiled. "I think so too." I then stood and leaned over Arthur to show him the images. He held the locket carefully between two fingers, and his face was suddenly very close to mine, though I had tilted my chin up so he could see, as the chain was short.

"Very nice," he said softly.

Adelaide set her teacup down loudly again, and I resisted the urge to smirk. She was head-over-heels for him. "Thank you," I smiled, and returned to my seat.

Arthur was rather shy and it did not seem likely that he was going to instigate another line of conversation, and Adelaide seemed... not exactly nervous around him, but more reticent than before, when it had been just she and I. So it fell to me to direct the conversation, and I asked Arthur what he did here on Arabella.

If I could record here what he told me, I would, but as it was all so technical and above my head, I cannot. Suffice it to say that he was very knowledgeable, though was still able to put things "in layman's terms" so I could understand (at the time) what he was talking about. Adelaide grew more and more silent as our banter went on, with me asking questions and Arthur answering them. As I wrote yesterday, I did not think myself much of a flirt, but after a while Arthur began fidgeting and turning pink around the ears and cheeks, scratching the back of his neck, shuffling his feet. It was a rather delightful thing to experience, both because he was simply adorable when made uncomfortable due to attention, and because it gave me a lovely sensation of.... well, of power, to make a man act in such a way. I shan't do such a thing to Arthur again, because it does make dear Adelaide so upset, but I shall keep it in mind should the opportunity ever arise again.

Not that I am to become a flirt! Or any sort of... scarlet woman. But as Miss P___ taught me all these years, a woman possesses fewer powers in life than does a man, so what few advantages a woman does have should be used to her benefit. That is all. Very practical advice, I think.

As before, my hand is now exhausted, though the day is not yet half-through. I think I shall begin reading the romance I got from the gaming car. Perhaps I shall write more here later on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well Miss Bernice, what a wise woman Miss P is to pass on such a wise bit of information.... I simply cannot wait to hear more of your adventure!

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