As soon as the soup kitchen opened in the morning, we were all turned back onto the street, though we did get a bowl of watery boiled oats and a small cup of bitter, black coffee first. We spent the morning wandering through town, keeping to quiet side streets and places that, frankly, seemed dangerous for two young women and a young man alone. I knew Zebediah was armed and would defend us if anything terrible happened, but did not fancy a repeat of that night in the forest with the knife.
Luckily, all went relatively well, but for the cold. It had snowed all night, so all day we trudged through wet white fluff several inches deep (and, as the day wore on, the whiteness grew increasingly grey and brown, as well as slushy in some places and icy in others). I had put on my oldest set of clothes before we left Troxill's, the white ones I had been wearing on the train, then wore on the dirigibles and at the academy. The fine coat given to me on the Erebos is fine no longer, what with the burn marks and the dirt, as well as the missing button I noticed only today. I looked very much a peasant, as did Zebediah, but Violet stood out more in a gown the colour of her name (again with a high neck and very long skirt and sleeves) with amethyst-coloured lace trim and buttons of, I think, the actual gem itself. She told us she took the maid's coat in some effort to disguise herself somewhat, and wore her shabbiest dress (if that is her shabbiest, I should like to see the rest!) but even the slightly stiff way she walks draws some attention, hence the reason we stayed out of sight all day as much as possible.
I was deemed the least-recognizable of the three of us, so I was sent into a shoppe to buy lunch: cold, stale ham sandwiches wrapped in very wrinkled (and so, I think, reused) brown paper. They were terrible, but filling, so we ate them quickly as we walked the outskirts of the park.
As we ate, I noticed Violet staring about in wonder, and touching her face every so often, as if checking for something. Then she actually took off a glove to examine her hand from all angles. "Are you quite all right?" I asked as she wriggled her fingers back into the warmth of the wool.
"Quite, th-thank you," she said, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
"But is anything the matter? You seem as though... you are trying to convince yourself you are real. As though you have awoken from a terrible nightmare and want to make sure it was only a dream."
"I have woken from a nightmare," she said, her voice soft, her eyes far away for a moment. "Mr. Troxill always said I would die if I lef-left the house," she went on, "that I would be too far from him and his Illumination and I w-would crumble. But I came to a point not long ago where I d-did not care any longer whether I l-lived or died. I wanted to know. So here I am, out and about, and as well as ever. As well as can be-be expected."
How terrible an existence she must have had, to feel thusly! I wanted to know the details of it, and also wanted to ask about her stutter, but thought it would be unimaginably rude to mention either, so I kept my mouth shut as we walked on, mostly to keep warm, but also to keep moving in case Mr. Troxill or Captain Belleclaire was looking for us.
We did have a bit of a scare, actually. Not long after we left the park and returned to the shadowed back streets, Zebediah caught hold of my arm and spelled on my palm that he thought he had seen someone he recognized from the Erebos. Tense all over, I asked what we should do. "Split up," he spelled.
"What about Violet?" I whispered. By this time, she was giving us strange looks, but I ignored her for the moment.
"Go with her. I will catch up," spelled Zebediah.
I did not like this at all. I did not really like Violet, and felt much safer in Zebediah's company, but I realized that anyone who knew us would either be looking for a young man and a young woman together, or the same two with a second young woman. "Very well," I murmured, already beginning to veer away from him and toward Violet. "If anything... should happen," I whispered to him, hardly letting myself think of what could go wrong, "meet at... at the soup kitchen where we spent the night."
He nodded, then took my hand and leaned in to kiss my cheek before turning abruptly away down another street, while Violet and I continued straight.
"It was for cover," she muttered, surely noticing my bright red blush. "If we are being fol-followed, it will look as though a man was bid-bidding his wife farewell after m-meeting her for lunch, then sending her on-on her way with a female f-friend."
Of course, I thought, of course that's all it was. But it felt as though his lips were still against my skin for at least ten minutes after he had gone.
Zebediah found us again not quite an hour later. He looked the same as when he left, and spelled out "False alarm" on my hand, but something in his eyes told me differently. I did not press him in Violet's company, though.
We are above another soup kitchen now, this one marginally cleaner and better-smelling than the last. Violet is asleep nearby, and I can hear a faint ticking sound in between her breaths. I am still agonizingly curious about her, since it is said that no true clockworks have been seen since before Amerigonian colonization, but she seems to play everything very close to the chest and I do not think she would answer my questions even if I dared to ask them.
Zebediah is awake, and has just told me he did, indeed, find the man he thought was following us. He was another former crewmember, but Zebediah was able to sneak up behind him and merely knock him unconscious, for which I am sure we are both grateful. But I think the sooner we can get out of this town, the better.