Yuah knelt down and used the buttonhook to fasten the twenty-eight buttons on each of Iolanthe’s shoes. As she fastened the last button, Yuah had to smile appreciatively. These shoes cost more than she made in a year, but unlike most wealthy aristocratic women, Iolanthe paid a premium not because the shoes were encrusted with jewels, but because they were exceptionally well made, and they were very comfortable.
“What are you smiling at?” demanded Iolanthe.
“Nothing, Miss. I would never smile in your presence.”
Iolanthe pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.
“What do you think about moving to some faraway land, Yuah… say for instance Mallon?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Yuah feigned.
“Oh please. I know you’re all a bunch of spies. There is nothing that goes on in the house that you and your father and the cook don’t know about.”
“I’m just the servant, Miss. You’re the mistress.”
“You’re cheeky too. I would fire you in a minute if it weren’t that Augie is under the impression that you are his sister instead of me.” Iolanthe stood up and brushed out her dress. “Have you heard from him, by the way?”
“Yes, Miss.” Yuah had gotten at least three letters from Augie since Iolanthe had last asked her. He did indeed think of her as a sister, and she thought of him as a brother. She sent him a letter for every one she received. They were the same age, two years younger than Iolanthe, and six years younger than Terrence, and had spent an enormous amount of time together as children.
“And what did he say?” asked Iolanthe, pointedly.
“Oh. He wrote mostly about the native…people. Can you call them people? They aren’t really people are they?”
“It matters little what you call them,” said Iolanthe as she crossed the room to the cheval glass.
“Well, he’s been talking to them and learning their language. Isn’t that marvelous? Imagine talking to reptiles. And he writes about the creatures that live where he is. It’s all quite amazing.”
“Amazing that he hasn’t managed to mess it all up.”
“Not at all,” replied Yuah, raising her chin defiantly. “I think Master Augie is doing the family proud.”
“My family,” Iolanthe reminded her.
“Still, he’s not the brother you would prefer to hear from, is he?”
Yuah’s face turned red. “I don’t know what you’re talking about… Miss.”
“Returning to my previous topic.” Iolanthe carefully placed her new hat atop her carefully coifed hair. “Life would be different for you outside of Brechalon… in a colony, I mean. Colonial life is different. You wouldn’t be a servant any more. In fact, you could probably afford servants of your own. You might be quite an important part of the community.”
“Are you trying to tell me that in the colonies I might marry Terrence?”
“God no!” Iolanthe laughed musically. “Perhaps we could marry you off to a tradesman.”
* * * * *
Zeah sat on the step in the courtyard and sipped his tea. It was hot and muggy and many might have preferred a cold beverage but the butler found tea soothing. The courtyard sat towards the side rear of the house, separated from the street on the east side only by an eight-foot tall stone wall. Though windows looked down onto it from all three stories on the other three sides, most of those rooms were not in use, so it was relatively private. Nevertheless, the door behind him opened and young Saba stepped out. Hopping down the steps, he sat down next to Zeah.
“Good morning, Mr. Korlann.”
The boy had a large brown glass bottle with a rubber stopper, which he pulled out with his teeth and spat onto the step. Then he tilted the bottle back and took a great swig.
“You’ll pick that up in a minute, I trust,” said Zeah, indicating the stopper with a nod.
“Oh, yeah. Sure.”
“What are you drinking?”
Saba held up the bottle and Zeah read the label. Billingbow’s Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen Soda Water.
“Is it any good?”
“I love it. Would you like a taste?” The boy pointed the open mouth of the bottle at the man.
“Um, no, thank you.”
“Is Miss Dechantagne really going to move to Mallon?”
“Where did you hear that?” asked Zeah, looking at the boy.
“I overheard my mother talking to Yuah about it.”
“I think it best not to speculate what Miss Dechantagne might or might not do.”
“You’re afraid of her, huh?”
“Ah… afraid? No, I’m not afraid of Miss Duh… Dechantagne.”
“Sure you are. Don’t feel bad. Everyone’s afraid of her. I’m afraid of her. I think Master Terrence is afraid of her.”
“You know how you can tell that you’re afraid?”
“I’m not… um, how?”
“You only stutter when you’re nervous.”
“I duh… don’t stutter… and nuh… nervous is not the same thing as afraid.”
Saba took another swig of soda. “Sure it is. It’s just another word for it, like hart is just another word for horse.”
“They’re not the same thing at all. A hart is a deer.”
“You know you shouldn’t be nervous. It’s not like Miss Dechantagne is going fire you.”
“No. She always says she’s going to fire somebody, but when was the last time you saw her really do it?”
“About five minutes ago,” said Zeah.
“Really? Who’d she fire?”
“She dismissed Nora.”
“I don’t know anybody named Nora.”
“She was the girl I hired the other day.”
“Well, you see there,” said Saba, knowingly. “She was new. When was the last time Miss Dechantagne fired anyone that had been with the house for a while?”
“She dismissed Tilda yesterday.”
“Yeah, I miss her,” said Saba wistfully. “So is Miss Dechantagne really going to move to Mallon?”
“Um, I think it’s best not to discuss this. Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I was just thinking. If she goes, then I imagine that we would get to go with her.”
“Do you want to move to Mallon?” asked Zeah.
“Sure. Who wouldn’t?”
“Um, I wouldn’t.”
“Sure you would. It would be great. It would be just like living in a Rikkard Banks Tatum novel.”
“Don’t all of his books involve monsters, chases, and narrow escapes from danger?”
“You bet,” the boy grinned. “It’ll be the dog’s bullocks.”
Saba drained his bottle of Billingbow’s and stood up. “Well, I guess I’d better get busy. I’m supposed to wash the steam carriage. Do you think I could drive it out of the motor shed?”
“No,” Zeah replied. “You had best push it out.”
The boy’s grin disappeared. He sighed and then walked across the courtyard to the motor shed. Zeah reached down and picked up the rubber stopper that Saba had left, then stood up, stretched his back, and went up the steps and back into the house.