Chapter 10 Part 10 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The 40th day of Fall's Ending, 991 KY
"Eh Pawl, there's sum'on to see you."
Rodder Pawl looked up from the pile of silver he was polishing in anticipation of the Winter's Beginning parties to find his fellow footman lounging in the pantry door. "To see me? Who?"
"Dunno, but Mr Bortle weren't happy, you getting visitors here. He said you should meet 'em at the beer garden on your half-day, but then he seen 'im and put 'im in the front parlor. Mr Bortle's waiting for you there, and ain't he in a mood."
Mr Bortle the butler could stuff his mood, thought Pawl as he put down the silver tray he'd been working on and donned his livery coat; he knew better than to ask a friend to come round his employer's townhouse. Someone visiting him specifically, someone grand enough to be asked to wait in the front parlor, mystified him. He approached the front parlor door, where Mr Bortle stood like a mother waiting to pounce on a naughty child. "And who is this Mr Brown to you, Pawl?" said the butler.
"Begging pardon, sir, I don't know any Mr Brown," said Pawl.
"He knows you. If you're in trouble, be assured I shall turn you away without a reference, young man. No. Reference. At all. This close to Eddin's Day you wouldn't find a new place with a reference. You had better thank Pagg Sir Tomis isn't at home, for he doesn't approve of any such goings-on as this."
"But what goings-on, Mr Bortle?" pleaded Pawl.
The butler paused. "I don't know, but for the likes of you to be visited by a person of such quality does not bode well." On these ominous words, he opened the front parlor doors not bothering to announce Pawl's arrival.
The person of quality inside rose as the doors closed behind Pawl, and extended a hand. "Mr Pawl, I am very glad to meet you. I've been looking for someone such as yourself."
The man was well-dressed in a fine wool suit, an understated but sumptuous waistcoat, expensive shoes--Pawl added him up from head to toe. The total made for a man who was more than a wealthy merchant, and less than a lord. A gentleman, then, quite a rich one, and from the south judging by his accent. "Such as myself, Mr...?"
"Mr Brown shall do for now. Please, sit." Mr Brown gestured to the chairs pulled close to the roaring early winter fire, and both men sat down, Mr Brown at his ease, Pawl considerably less so. "Now, then, Rodder Pawl. No preambles. You once served as footman to a lady named Tellis Ambleson, is this correct?"
"Oh, sir, are you a relative of hers?" cried Pawl, scooting to the chair's edge. "Because I did the best by her I could, sir, and if I'd known she'd…she'd…" His guilt at accepting Adrik Adrikov's gold piece gnawed at him. He decided to say nothing to that. "I'm happy to take you to where she lies in the Hill, sir, so you might pay your respects and take her bones back to where she's from when the time comes. I didn't know where to find her people, so I made the arrangements myself, sir."
"What do you know about where she's from, Pawl?"
"Well, I knew she and Miss were probably from Whithorse the way they talked." A small hope came to him. "Sir, has Miss come to her family there? She never came back to Arren."
Mr Brown uncrossed his legs and leaned forward; Pawl retreated an inch into his chair. He'd stepped in it now. "Where did she go? And with whom?"
Panic washed over him: panic, guilt and grief in equal measure. He assumed an indignant expression. "Now look here, sir, she loved the young gentleman, and he'd courted her fair for a year! You can't blame her, she was innocent as a lamb in it!"
Mr Brown sat back and re-crossed his legs. "I wonder how innocent you are, Rodder Pawl," he murmured.
Pawl's face dropped. This man knew. Make a clean breast, or avow blamelessness? He'd done nothing but assist Miss in marrying Mr Adrikov. If it meant a gold piece in his pocket, well, he'd given it all to the Temple of Harla in memory of his poor mistress, and he'd promised himself he'd take care of Miss if Mr Adrikov proved false in his promise to marry her. "I done nothing wrong, sir," he said, raising his hands before him palms-out. "Miss Mattie and Mr Adrikov loved each other, anyone could see that, and why Mistress wouldn't give permission no one in the house understood."
"Did Miss Ambleson ask you to aid them?"
Pawl nodded. "Yessir. And Mr Adrikov…well…he gave me a gold piece." There. It was out.
"I should hope he did," smiled Mr Brown.
"Then she's all right, sir? Did she come to you? Is that why you're here? Does she know about her mother?"
"I don't know. Can you tell me, Mr Pawl, what Miss Ambleson looked like?" Pawl put an unconscious hand on the waistcoat pocket holding Mattie's miniature. Mr Brown smiled. "Would you like to share, Mr Pawl?"
Pawl flushed and produced the tiny portrait. "Please, sir, I didn't steal it. The Accountsman would have just sold it with the furniture--it's all I could save, and I thought I should keep it to give to her when she came back. Except…except she didn't come back."
Mr Brown accepted the miniature and studied it. "This is the girl I've been looking for, which means you are the fellow I've been looking for, Rodder Pawl. Already knew it, but it's always handy to have it confirmed."
"You're not in any trouble," said the still-smiling Brown. "Though I imagine you do feel some guilt as to Mistress Ambleson's death." Pawl lowered his head. Mr Brown stood in a graceful, powerful movement that reminded Pawl of a dancer--or a Brother practicing his forms. "I thought so. I've done some prior research on you. No family to speak of, nothing holding you here, and you speak the language of the Gremas tribe. Your grandmother was Gremas, I'm told."
Pawl raised his brows in astonishment and strained to see the other man's face without craning his neck. Why had the man bothered learning about him? "If you're asking me to go somewhere for some reason, sir, I have to say no. If Miss Ambleson comes back and there's no one here to tell her what's happened--"
"Miss Ambleson isn't coming back."
"She's not--she didn't follow her mother into the Hill, did she, sir?" gasped Pawl.
"In some ways, it's worse. Mr Adrikov is not the man he said he was. I have reason to believe he has kidnapped Miss Ambleson."
"So…you don't know where she is, either."
Mr Brown returned the miniature. "I have an idea. How attached are you to Sir Tomis's household?"
"Attached?" snorted Pawl. "It's just a job. Truthfully, sir, I feel responsible for Miss. I've been watching for her all this time, and I confess I'm worried."
"Will you help me find her, then? It will be dangerous, very dangerous. I'd go myself, but I am known where I believe she is being held. You will be paid, handsomely," he added.
Pawl stood up. He wasn't the bravest man, but he had a debt to pay to the Amblesons. Then there was the mention of money. "What do I have to do?"
"Right now? Give notice to that butler and come with me."
"I have a right to know what you want me to do before I give up my place. They don't hand places out at Paggday market, y'know."
"Even if you say no, I'll make it worth your while, but I cannot tell you anything more in this house." Brown extended his hand. In it were twelve gold pieces, more than Pawl made in a year. "Consider these a retainer fee, with more to come. Take these, and you come with me. Leave them, and I'll still give you one to forget everything we've spoken of. Are you my man?"
Pawl hesitated. Did he care enough about Mattie Ambleson to put himself at risk? But twelve gold just to begin with…and a chance to make things right with the spirit of Mistress… He snatched the gold from Brown's hand before he could change his mind. "I'm your man."