“Yes, he is tall,” replied Yuah, looking down the hallway toward the parlor.
“You don’t like him?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like him. He is rather queer though, isn’t he?”
“I don’t think he is.”
“Well, I guess I don’t mean that he is,” Yuah explained, turning around. “But is that the type of man you imagined she would go for? I always thought she would be trying to land a sturdy war hero type.”
“That’s your type, dear, not hers.”
“Don’t be thick, Mrs. C. I don’t have a type.”
“Whatever you say.” Mrs. Colbshallow returned to the kitchen and gave the tea tray one more check before sending it off to the parlor with Tilda, the downstairs maid. “You might as well sit down. She’ll be busy with him for another half hour at least.”
“I still don’t see the attraction,” said Yuah.
“Not that you have a type.”
“Not that I have a type,” Yuah sat down.
At that moment, Zeah entered the servant’s hall carrying the mail.
“You have a letter from Mrs. Godwin, Mrs. C,” he said.
“Bless her heart,” said Mrs. Colbshallow. “Poor Mrs. Godwin, running around that great country estate, practically all alone now that Miss Dechantagne and the boys have moved away. I would be going half wobbly if it was me.”
“I wouldn’t mind a bit of peace and quiet, I can tell you that,” said Yuah. “It’s all Yuah fetch me this, and Yuah put that away, and Yuah I need you for something.”
“Yuah,” called a stern voice from the doorway. Everyone in the room jumped and hastily attempted to look busy. Nobody needed to look to see that it was Miss Dechantagne who spoke. Then in a low purr, she said, “Yuah, I need you for something.”
Mrs. Colbshallow, who was facing away from the mistress of the house, rolled her eyes as Yuah passed.
* * * * *
Senta didn’t mind working at Café Carlo in the Great Plaza. For the most part it was great fun watching people. Horse drawn trolleys loaded with passengers, passed every three minutes. Most of the men wore suits, though a few of them were dressed as laborers. The ladies were dressed nicely, and wore huge bustles that made their rear ends stick out two feet behind them. Some people rode by in horse drawn carriages. There were also many, many pedestrians. The most interesting travelers though, were those riding in steam-powered carriages, which spewed smoke and hissed steam.
The bad part about working at Café Carlo was that Carlo himself, the chubby proprietor of the establishment, treated her like an idiot. She was young, but she wasn’t stupid. He handed her a huge push-broom and told her “sweep,” as if she didn’t know what a broom was for. Senta swept the walkway all around the café, starting on the far right and sweeping left one day and then on the next day, starting left and working her way right. It usually took her an hour and a half to sweep along the entire breadth of the café. Then she took the enormous broom around the building to the janitorial closet in back—the one that could only be reached from the outside, and she would put it away. Then Carlo would hand her a bucket of warm soapy water and a bristle brush and say “clean,” as if she didn’t know what a bucket of warm soapy water and a bristle brush were for.
The wrought iron railing that encircled the café was covered with soot. Everything in the entire city was covered in soot. The soot came from the smoke stacks of the factories that lined the waterfront. It came from the trains that rolled through the city to the great station four blocks north of the plaza. It came from almost all of the steam-powered carriages that drove about the wide streets of the city. It was a good thing too. Now Senta and other children would be able to earn enough money cleaning that soot to pay their keep.
Senta started scrubbing the wrought iron railing, starting on the side opposite that on which she had started sweeping, so that if she swept from left to right, then she cleaned soot from right to left. Soon it was cleaned and she took the bucket of warm soapy water and bristle brush back to the janitorial closet. Then Carlo would hand her a clean cloth and a jar of polish. Next she would polish the brass dragon at the entrance to Café Carlo. It was about three feet long, including its serpentine tail, and about four feet wide, its wings outstretched. It sat on a stone plinth, so that it could just about look Senta in the face. She took great care to polish the entire body. While she did, she talked to the little statue.
“It’s all quite funny when you think about it,” she told the dragon. “I live in the city of Brech, so I’m a Brech aren’t I? But if I lived in the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, but not in the city of Brech, I’d still be a Brech. That’s just odd, that is.”
The dragon, completely unmoving, professed no opinion.
“What do you think about the steam carriages,” she asked it. “I bet you could breathe enough fire to make one of them go, couldn’t you?”
Once she had finished polishing the brass dragon, she hurried home. The fact that a six year old crossed the length of the city, through busy traffic and alone, raised no eyebrows. She was just one more of the endless supply of ragamuffins that was one of Brech’s greatest resources. Though tired, she managed her way up the twelve flights of stairs to Granny’s apartment without too much difficulty.
When Senta entered her home, she didn’t find the warm, pleasant atmosphere that she was used to. Fifteen-year-old Bertice, who was usually at work this time of day, was home, and she and Granny stood in the front room holding each other. They both had faces red from crying. Ten-year-old Geert sat on the beat up old couch, and though he hadn’t been crying, he looked as though he wanted to.
“What’s the matter?” asked Senta.
Granny raised a hand, silently inviting Senta to her side, and then pulled her close.
“There has been an accident at the print shop. Maro was hurt.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s in on Granny’s bed, dear. Why don’t you go in? I know he’d love to see you.”
Senta walked into the only other room in the apartment, the kitchen and living room being for all practical purposes a single one. Propped up in the center of the bed was Maro. Though his eyes were closed, it was obvious that he was awake. He was gritting his teeth and tears were squeezing out from the corners of his eyes. His right hand was wrapped up in bandages so completely that it looked to be three times its size. On a crate next to the right side of the bed was a large brown bottle of laudanum. Stepping over near it, Senta reached out and touched the boy’s left arm.
Maro started and opened his eyes. They were red from crying.
“My fingers got cut off,” he said.
“All of ‘em?”
“No, just two.”
“One of them wasn’t your thumb, was it?”
“No. It was the end two.”
Senta nodded. Then she climbed up into the bed beside her cousin and wrapped her long skinny arms around him.
“I bet it hurts.”
“Yup.” He snuggled closer and leaned his head on her shoulder.
“Maybe you won’t have to work at the print shop anymore now,” Senta offered.
“The print shop is ace. It’s my fault I stuck my fingers in the press. I hope they don’t give the job away…”
Anything else Maro had to say was lost, as he was finally carried away by drug induced slumber.