“Oh, come on,” he said, pushing past the heavy desk and large chair to where she stood. “What have you got there, behind your back? I won’t tell on you; I just want to see what you’ve got.” Miriam twisted away from him, but Simon managed to get an arm around her and grab the paper.
“Ha ha!” he said, releasing her and holding the paper above his head. “Success!” He put a hand out and grabbed her arm. “No, hold on, don’t leave; I just want to see…”
His voice died out as he stared at the letter. For an instant, he was frozen in disbelief. Then he looked up at her, mouth hanging open. “What on earth?”
“Well, don’t think that I had anything to do with it!” Miriam cried out.
At that moment, they heard Theodosia’s voice at the front door, demanding that a servant come to take her parcels. Simon held the paper out to Miriam, and she thrust it back it him as if it were a live snake. He looked around the study and pushed it under the corner of the blotter. They retreated from the desk, escaped from the room and, as if with mute accord, ran for the back door as quickly as they could.
Outside, Simon took a deep breath and blew it out. He laughed a bit, feeling a certain exultation at avoiding his mother.
Miriam, leaning against the house and feeling her own heart thud in her chest, laughed as well. The next moment she opened her eyes and realized where she was. She was standing there with Simon, alone.
“Um, just realized. I must be off. ’Bye,” she announced hastily.
Simon frowned and reached out a hand to grab her arm again, but she slipped away and disappeared back into the house. He dropped his hand and started after her.
Neil came up behind him and grabbed his collar. “Hey, you abandoned me! Where’ve you been?” he demanded. “Did you find the string we needed?”
“What?” Simon turned to him and blinked.
“What’s the matter with you? You look like you just saw Old Harry himself. Where’s that string, idiot?”
Simon appeared to recall where he was. “String, right. String.” He squared his shoulders and marched away. Neil was left behind, scratching his head.
The Headmistress entered the cell and looked down at her. It seemed as though the woman never stood in full light. From that angle, her light eyes gleamed like ice in the center of two black puddles.
“Stand up when I address you,” she said after a long moment.
Miriam stood and looked up at the woman. “Why am I here?” she asked. “When can I go home?”
There was a pause, and the Headmistress responded, “You will not talk to me unless I ask you a direct question.”
Miriam felt a rush of anger. Once, at a dinner party that her father had given, she had been allowed to squirt some soda water from a large siphon into a glass and taste it. Some had gone up her nose in her haste to drink the unexpected treat, the prickling, stinging sensation in her nostrils was just like the fury that she felt now.
“You will work for the factory here,” the Headmistress said. “Mrs. Siddons will show you your duties tomorrow. You will start at the very bottom of the task list and, if you do as you are bid, you might possibly work your way up to a better position. Do you understand?”
Miriam gritted her teeth. She’d be damned before she gave this woman the satisfaction of an answer.
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