Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 114

Written March 2, 2008

Jane sighed as she straightened up, pushing a wisp of hair back as she smiled at her son. Tucking him in bed was the pleasantest time of the day for her, after he was clean and quiet. During the days, he was constantly on the run. She was grateful to her stepchildren and the servants, who looked after him with good humor.

Still, when he was excited, hurt, sad, lonely, bored, amused or ill, Jane was the first -- and often only -- person he turned to.

" Jane," the voice in the doorway was deep, but gentle. She turned to see her uncle standing there, looking tenderly at the sleepy child. Paul looked up at his great uncle with big eyes.

Tor shot him a wink and blew him a kiss as he closed the door.

" I know the girls are also getting ready for bed, and you must be as tired as any of us," Tor continued, "but there are some things you must know about my visit here and the ladies with whom I travel."

Jane nodded and motioned to her uncle to lead the way to the library. She looked back once at Paul's door as if she wished to rush back in and hug him, but then straightened her shoulders and marched on. Whatever her uncle has to tell her would be interesting, to say the least!

The old woman turned as Jane knocked on her doorframe on the way past, and gave her a tired but gentle smile as she set down a book. Jane noticed how much she resembled Esmeralda, not so much in her features, but in the way she carried herself. Age, and sorrow, she reflected gave a certain gravity and importance to a woman.

" I wondered if you have everything you need? I would be happy to send up some hot milk or tea before you retire," Jane murmured, noticing the rich titling on the book, and the peculiar lettering.

The woman nodded, and smiled again, "We are grateful for your hospitality. I know your uncle is about to tell you more, but I will beg your indulgence to add my piece until we have rested tonight. Our journey so far has been long..." she paused a moment, considering. "I will let you choose whether I should have tea or milk -- I would prefer something gentle but not sleep-inducing. I am certain you will know what is best from your pantry."

"I'll send my daughter up with something in a moment, then. I hope you can rest well," and Jane continued on her way, pausing only briefly to ask Annalee to check with the younger guest before taking Jane's favorite tea up with a pitcher of cream.

Her uncle was stoking a fire in the stove when she entered the library, and Jane noted with a dismay that the lamps were all lit. Tor had something rather bigger planned than a discussion of food preferences.

Indeed, a platter of food was on the table, and a flagon of Jane's husband's cold work-tea. Tor turned and began his tale, starting with Nan's remarkable recovery and Adam's death. Jane sat, her hands in her lap, looking through the isinglas at the flames, listening intently, nodding at the parts she already knew, eyes alternately moist or determined at more recent news.

When Tor stopped for breath, Jane excused herself quickly and ran to get her basket for handwork. While she was gone, Tor glanced more fully around the room. Yurgen's desk was neat and well-ordered, if a bit dusty. He noted the absence of a couple ledgers, and surmised Jane had taken them to her own room for convenience. Still, he was surprised at the dust. He realized that the shelves also were dusty, and he wondered...

By the time Jane came back in, her basket in one hand and a journal in the other, Tor was looking out the window at the waning moon. He turned as her shoe tapped on the floor, a worried expression clouding his countenance.

" Jane, what is it about Yurgen's absence that disturbs you? It is not like you to leave a room undusted, or books untouched."

Jane sat on a chair near a lamp and held out the journal to her uncle.

" Yurgen was very clear that the less time I spent in here, the better this trip. I have forbidden the children and servants from entering since he left, and have come in only once or twice when I needed records for the business." Jane looked up bleakly, " Of course you know that the journal is only part of the story, but it will give you some indication."

Tor sat down, and absent-mindedly thumbed through the pages before continuing his tale while Jane began a length of lace with a lace hook and some silvery thread. He picked up with their departure and the long voyage, skipped over some of the days' of travel overland, and ended with Carlota's comment while he was carrying their bags up to the guest quarters -- Your niece is more like my aunt than like you... are you sure you're not a changeling?

Jane laughed, and nodded, "Truly said, that was, uncle! But now we must consider how best to protect these ladies and their precious cargo."

Tor nodded, "And how to best care for you and your children until Yurgen can return."