I received back a letter within a day. I guess mail systems work differently for nobility, or at least someone as high up as heir to the duke. He told me it would take a bit of time to set up everything, but that he would send a carriage to pick us up within a month. The ink seemed to smear in some places, as though he had been a bit rushed in writing this. I hoped he wasn’t overworked for whatever reason.
I didn’t ask why Gus wasn’t more excited about getting an upgrade in the world. I think the reason was obvious. Didn’t mean I agreed with his reasoning or thought he wasn’t stupid. But I’d like to think I was learning by not getting involved with his moodiness, teenage sprung or otherwise.
The regulars somehow heard through the either and were appalled.
“You can’t become a duke’s wife, Lil’, what would we do without you?” said the older man with the three daughters.
“I don’t know, get your own booze from the bar,” I said dryly.
“What about my eyes?” said another. “Take responsibility for what you’ve done for to my eyes. Everyone looks like slugs now compared to you.”
“Who said you need to see pretty things every day anyways? Wait, aren’t you married?”
The bard was the worst.
“No! My muse! It’s too late to travel to another inn for the cold season, don’t leave me here in this dung heep!”
I didn’t grace that with a response, for fear I would introduce him to an actual dung heap. To think he’d have the audacity to call Hal’s epitome of cleanliness Inn a dung heap was close to sacrilege.
Derrick had always been quiet, but he grew even more so with sad, trembling eyes that followed me wherever I went.
Even though I corrected the room at large a dozen times, to regulars and confused non-regulars alike, that I wasn’t running off to get married and that I had just gotten a new job at the duchy that would allow me to get Gus some education, it was like the words went in one ear and out the other.
“The eldest son is at the main estate,” said one regular, a city guard, morosely. “She’s as good as gone.”
“Don’t talk like that. Isn’t he a cripple? All crooked and misshapen?”
“Yeah, I got a peek once. It’s amazing to think he’s still alive, let alone still moving. Do we know what’s wrong with him?”
“Whatever’s wrong with him, women will take anything if you give them enough money.”
I threw a baked potato at the guy who said that. Soft starchy potato whites splattered over his shoulder.
“I’m not for sale, nor am I getting married, for the last damn time!”
“Stop gossiping about me like some old lady with nothing to do and I might just buy you another one. Seriously.”
“I’m sorry, Lil, sweetheart. Please don’t leave us, I beg of you.”
“I’m coming back when it gets busy anyway, jeeze.”
Once I said that, they seemed to cheer up considerably and move on to other topics, though the dark air about Derrick didn’t dissipate.
…Welp. Sucks to be him. Nothing I can do to fix that. I already said I’d be coming back regularly and honestly had no plans for getting married to anyone, including him, not that anyone would listen to me. Heck, I wasn’t even listening to me.
But I did manage to convince Milly to give him an extra roll with a bit of honey. And paid for his extra alcohol. I could do that much for a friend, yeah? And the soap he’d given me had been a life saver.
Fall grew colder. The extra slow pace of the seasons in this world gave me a bit of an inch for winter. It was frustrating to wake up freezing and be sweating by noon because I’d overdressed. Milly mentioned buying me some heavier stockings and other warm clothing, but I didn’t want them to spend any more of their precious funds on me, especially when I’d be working in a mansion that was probably well heated from now on.
The thing I found most difficult with the changing seasons, however, was how much more difficult it became to bathe without freezing. The warm summer rains seemed like eons ago. Gus thought me strange for wanting to bathe so often, but the neatfreak Hal and the daughter who was use to it said nothing about it.
“Hygiene is one of the best ways to avoid disease, squirt. Didn’t you know that?”
Gus wrinkled his nose. “Squirt?”
Ignoring his confusion, I saw a chance for educating so I launched into the germ theory. We had our arms full of sheets ready for hanging in the lukewarm autumn sun then. By the time we came back inside with empty baskets, Gus had forgotten my odd nickname and had his eyebrows up to his hair.
“So Hal actually isn’t crazy?” he said.
“Hal was never crazy. That being said, don’t tell him about germs. Being clean doesn’t completely prevent diseases. Many of them travel from person to person no matter how clean you are. That aside,” I gave him a half-smile as I dropped off the baskets. “Girls like clean, good-smelling men.”
Gus became just as interested in daily hygiene as me after that.
Click to Read Next Chapter