“Tilly!” Uncle bellowed from the floor above. “I can’t find my hat!”
She rose. “Cook and Callie are busy, so just run down and fetch the pot and cups yourself. You can take dinner at lamplighting in the nursery with the little girls, or wait and share a collation with us at evening’s end when we get home from the academy. For the lecture tonight, you’ll need to change into something more”—she frowned at my jacket and petticoats, a style I had assiduously copied from the plates of a very up-to-date fashion magazine Bee and I had seen in the window of a milliner on High Street last year—“more sober.”
“Tilly!” Uncle called again.
She hurried out the door.
“Do you think it was the poet’s head that spoke?” Bee whispered. “We’ll never be able to tell anyone that we heard the famous Bran Cof declaim! Even if it was only two words. Now, I’ll get the chocolate while you get that bag up to our room before Papa decides we must display our day’s academic work at dinner for his delectation. That would be a disaster! He’d see my sketches. And you’d have to confess you stole a book from the academy.”
“A book my father wrote!”
“A book whose author’s name is the same as your father’s. That doesn’t prove anything.”
She was right, so I retraced my steps to the entryway. Our governess was still up in the nursery with Hanan and Astraea; Cook and the hired girl Callie were busy with dinner; and our man-of-all-work, Pompey, would be stoking the evening fires or preparing trays to carry up to the nursery for their early dinner. I climbed the stairs to the first floor with the bag clutched against me. At the top of the stairs, the huge hall mirror showed me myself—yes, that was me, as always, my face, my body, my long-fingered hands, my wishfully fashionable jacket and petticoats sewn as well as Bee’s and my skill could manage. In the mirror, a ragged nimbus like a storm cloud fringed my form; it sparked in the mirror’s reflection only if I was particularly annoyed or upset, and I knew how to furl it in, like binding back one’s hair.
As I slunk along the first-floor hall past the closed doors of the front parlor and Uncle’s office, Aunt’s and Uncle’s voices traded rhythms from behind the office door. Their knack for talking over each other without quite getting in each other’s way reminded me of festival drums. Our factotum’s bass rumble interposed an unexpected counterbeat, followed by a silence.