At The Oxford Comma
Mir is running late. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. She pushes the door into the shop, the tinkling bell announcing her arrival. “Sorry,” she’s already saying, “I had good intentions this morning but they paved the road to --” She breaks off, because Drew is in the back room, door closed, and judging by the slender silhouette with him, so is Holly.
“Hell,” Mir concludes. Sge gingerly puts Drew’s pumpkin spice latte on his desk, wondering if she should camouflage it with his cup of pencils or something. Normally she’d go upstairs to her workstation, but if she does that’ll leave the store unattended altogether -- not, technically, unusual, but still probably not the best idea when the nominal boss is around.
Sitting in Drew’s chair seems too familiar to contemplate, so instead she hides her own cup of coffee behind some files and retrieves a box of new arrivals, sitting on the floor to sort them out. It’s mostly recent hardbacks, novels, with a few paperbacks here and there; she puts them in neat piles around her, alphabetized by author. She’s halfway through this task, skimming a token volume of essays, when the door opens and Holly glides out. Her fashionable scarf floats behind her like an erstwhile cape. Holly glances at her in typical derision but doesn’t design to speak. The bells jingle in cheerful discord as the door is slammed shut behind her.
“Fun morning?” Mir asks, getting up and thrusting his coffee into Drew’s hands. “Is it wrong that I’m glad I missed that -- whatever that was?”
“No,” Drew says. “And it was just typical Holly. What’s this for?” He sniffs the open tab of the cup’s top, visibly brightening when he gets a whiff. “You don’t need to bribe me, you know.”
“I know” -- she didn’t -- “but it seemed like the kind of day it couldn’t go amiss. Guess I was right.”
“Good call,” Drew says. “C’mon back here, I’ve got something to show you. And don’t worry about her,” he adds with a comforting smile. “That’s my job.”
“Okay,” Mir says, but she doesn’t quite believe him, even so.
In the Shop of Ned Baker
Ned Baker was easily a head and more taller than I. “Kirk sent you?” He made a disapproving sound in the back of his throat. “Mph. I’d rather have had that corrector of his. Why not send him?”
“Master Marcus is needed for other work,” I said as temperately as I could. “I’m only an apprentice, but I assure you, I am quite equal to the task.”
Baker raised his eyebrows at my fair speech. “What’s your name again, lass?”
“Simmons. Jane Simmons.” I bobbed my head to him, but did not curtsy as I probably should have done. I was long out of the habit by then. Besides, Ned Baker was no Lady [ ] nor [doge?] whose very presence commanded obeisances. I couldn’t begin to feel sorry for my lapse.
“Simmons, then. Well, come along then. I need you to help my lads with their job -- if you can.” He spoke as if he had doubts about the matter, and I bit the inside of my cheek. He led me to the back of the shop, where a boy of my age stood composing at twin cases of type and two other lads were working at a press. They weren’t making good time at it, either; Kirk would have verbally flayed them for the pace they kept. “Oy, lads! This here is Simmons. She’s come from Kirk’s to help fix this sorry mess.”
“‘Elp?” One of the boys echoed, eyes round and agog. “What’s she goin’ to ‘elp us to, then? Roll about in ink oursel’s?” His mate laughed at that. Baker cuffed them both sharply; I winced myself at the sound of the heavy blows.
“I said, ye deaf bastards, that Missus Simmons is come to us special from Master Kirk’s shop, to be of assistance for the day so as we can finish this blasted piece of work. Now then,” he said as he finally lay off from his blows, “between the four o’ ye I expect this order done by tonight. Aye?”
“Aye, sir,” the two pressmen said as one; the compositor said nothing, but the left corner of his mouth quirked upwards as he gazed at his case and continued to fill his stick.
“What d’you do at Kirk’s?” one of the boys at the press asked once Baker had one back to the other end of the shop to harangue his men there.
“Typesetting, mostly,” I answered. “Also pulling, and sometimes the inkmaking.” I raised my eyebrows at them, daring them to make another joke about my appearance. One of the boys grumped.
“Relax,” said the lad still typesetting. “If she’s in Kirk’s shop, she’ll know what she’s about. I’m Tom,” he added to me. “Those two are Gareth and Robbie.”
“At your service,” said the latter, who had not spoken until then. “You’re a real apprentice, then, not --” He broke off, flushed when I waited for him to continue. “--a serving girl?” he concluded lamely, making clear that was hardly the word he had first intended to say.
“I’m an apprentice, same as you lot,” I said after a moment. “Now then, show me where we are?”
Gareth and Robbie made fair company once they were at their ease; there was too much to be done to waste time with foolishness. The waves of hostility that emanated from them almost palpably began to lessen. though it was still as bad as the worst days of Aaron’s own foolishness. Worse still, the pair of them were even thicker than they looked. Neither of them had any natural aptitude for the work, and often stared at me as I showed them this or that trick I had long since taken for granted from my own days as a devil. Our work progressed slowly, and I despaired of ever finishing, let alone at a decent hour that same evening.
“Hard going, then?” Tom asked me as we broke for the noon meal, the other two all but tearing off their smocks and disappearing out the door as soon as the time was called. “Well, I can help this afternoon. Might go faster then.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, but I could hardly keep the note of hope out of my voice. Tom laughed at me for that. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s hard going, I can see that. But the Master’s convinced it’s the work and not the lads. Soon as he’s learned better, it’ll be easier for us all.” He cast his eye at me. “You brought no nuncheon?”
“No,” I admitted, stomach growling. Nor coin for it -- I hadn’t thought it necessary. “Kirk’s custom is to feed us at the shop --”
“You can come home wi’ me then, if ye like. My Mam’s is around the corner. ‘Tis no trouble,” he added when I started to argue, “an’ if it’s the same to you, I’d like to hear about your Master Kirk’s shop.”
Tom’s mother was indeed around the corner from the shop, and she took my arrival with great good humor and only a momentary pause at my appearance. “Any friend o’ my Tom’s,” she said, leaving the rest hanging unspoken as she ruffled his hair fondly, and then set out a second bowl and mug for me. Nuncheon was a hearty pottage, thick with vegetables, and small beer.
Tom asked only a few questions of Kirk’s shop -- what was he like, and how many men had he, and the like. And then he wanted to know how I came there, and my own training. I edited my tale judiciously; I admitted to my masquerade as a boy, but glossed over how the truth came known, nor did I mention Mitchell. If Tom noticed these omissions, or wondered at them, he said naught. Like as, he had heard some parts of the story by then as it was.
In Baker’s shop, Tom worked as both compositor and engraver, it seemed. He’d carved a number of the decorative pieces we used at Kirk’s. Indeed, not a few of those pieces that circulated from shop to shop all around St. Paul’s were made by him. “I should be a journeyman now,” he said ruefully, “but Master Baker would have to pay me full price of what my work is worth, and he doesn’t want to do that yet. It’s little better than slavery. Sorry,” he added, as if he’d caught himself.
“Why?” I asked blankly, and only belatedly understood. “Ah, no. Sorry” -- I mocked his earlier tone -- “but I’m as English as you, as it happens.”
Neither scene is finished by any means, nor are they linear, but hey, I'll take what I can get. I also got 80 words for the Information Dystopia article I have due on the 1st. >_>