12 July 2015 @ 07:14 pm
The Education of a Magician in Both Love and War (3/10)  

Childermass was as good as his word and he returned a few minutes before a full hour had passed, looking pleased with himself and leading a mule harnessed to a small cart.

“I had begun to think that you had abandoned me,” Mr Norrell said as Childermass halted beside the chest. “You are very nearly late.”

Well used to his employer’s shortness of temper over such matters and aware that Mr Norrell would have spent the time imagining in increasingly great detail what calamities might befall them, he said, “I see nothing occurred while I was away. Mr Pettiman did his job.”

“If his job was to look sullen and remain uncommunicative then he fulfilled his role excellently.” Both Childermass and Pettiman refrained from mentioning that such a description might just have easily been applied to Mr Norrell himself in the present circumstances.

“You would not have wished conversation,” Childermass replied with a familiarity that Mr Norrell rarely allowed any other to have with him. He then handed Pettiman, who looked surprized and not a little discomforted at the previous exchange, another coin and bid him to be on his way. It was something that young Pettiman did rapidly and with great relief as he had found being in the company of a real magician most alarming.

After Childermass had loaded the cart with their belongings, Mr Norrell relinquished his seat on the chest of books to allow that to be place with them. “The lodgings,” he began rather uncertainly, “They are secure I trust? and free of damp and vermin? and dare I hope respectable?”

“They are well enough,” came the reply.

“I shall not find myself humiliated to tell Wellington where any correspondence should be sent?” Mr Norrell asked, finding this of the upmost concern in case it should reflect badly on him.

“They will not,” Childermass reassured him, then paused to lift the heavy chest onto the cart. “Although we shall not remain there many nights.”

“Why do you say that? The war is not closer to the city that we were lead to believe? We are not in any danger are we?” He looked fearfully into the dark shadows that filled the corners of the alleys and windows of the buildings as if expecting Napoleon himself to leap and accost them.

“It is not.”

“Must you be so obtuse,” Mr Norrell said irritably, then with a sharp look of disappointment added, “I have told you that I shall not have you consulting those cards of yours like some yellow tented charlatan. Can you not see how poorly such a thing would reflect upon me should your dabblings become known?”

A look of weary annoyance briefly crossed Childermass’ face as he leant against the cart. “I have not had the opportunity for such, I have had barely a moment not in your company this past week. I enquired with the inn keeper as to where Wellington or his agent in this city may be found. It is common knowledge here that Wellington left Lisbon some four weeks past and none know if he is like to return.”

“Then how are we to find him?” Mr Norrell fretted. “It really is most vexing,” at his point a look worry crossed his face as he continued, “Do you believe he has slighted me deliberately, that he does not believe magic to be of use here? Perhaps Lord Liverpool did not stress strongly enough that I was willing aid him to the very best of my abilities.” He looked at Childermass in mute appeal for reassurance as he often did in things that concerned interacting with other people, before added with a hopefulness that bordered on the pathetic, “He surely has heard of my sea beacons?”

“I doubt there is a soul within his Majesties forces that has not,” Childermass said with wry amusement as was his way with such things.

“You are mocking me,” Mr Norrell exclaimed, hurt that he would have done such a thing. “Please do not. Not you of all people. I am quite aware how unappreciative the Admiralty have been thus far and I wonder daily what more they could possibly expect of me.” Unhappy with this he seemed to shrink into himself, making him appear a smaller and more uncertain figure than he usually presented to the world. It was with misery in his voice he added quietly enough so that only Childermass should hear, “Now I fear I am to disappoint them again and they shall never forget nor forgive me for it.”

Childermass listened impassive. He did not apologise for it, nor as was his way did he feel any pity over it. [1] It had not however been his intention to distress Mr Norrell who he well knew was currently of a weaker constitution and emotion than usual following his prolonged encounter with seasickness.

“Wellington is a busy man,” he said with a kindness he knew his employer needed unless he was to become more fretful and peevish than usual, which was not a happy state for anybody near him to have to endure. “He will have had no plan to offend you, only a more pressing need to make sure the French are kept at bay.”

“I am sure you are right,” Mr Norrell replied, comforted for now, although any that knew him, which was suprizingly few in reality, would know that it would be unlikely to last for any great length of time.

“Come then,” Childermass said, taking the rope that had been looped through the mules bridle as means of a rein, “It is only a short walk and then you can take supper and rest.”

The inn itself was a well appointed three storey structure of white plastered walls and tiled roofs. Built around two sides one of the many small squares that seems so common in Lisbon it appeared well maintained and orderly. A fountain splashed in the squares centre and doves clustered so thickly on the roofs as to look like a sudden, strange and feathery snow fall.

There were a number of officers, British by uniform, sat inside by one of the open ground floor windows, drinking and playing cards, which did seem to lend an air of security to the establishment. Certainly more so, Mr Norrell decided, than it it had merely been ordinary soldiers who were billeted there.

“It does look well enough,” Mr Norrell conceded as he considered it, then as was his way immediately sort to find fault. “You have not told anyone here what the trucks contain. A foreigner, even a Portuguese who should be grateful to us, should not be trusted as an Englishman would.”

“I have not,” Childermass said and then he waved over a young boy of about ten to take the mule while he unloaded the cart. “And for you peace of mind, sit, our host is a retired Captain from Hessle. He is a fellow Yorkshireman.[2]”

Mr Norrell brightened at this information and in one of his rare moments of honest gratitude said, “I should not have doubted you, I cannot think of a time you have played me false.”

It was at moments such as this that Childermass felt an affection for his employer than few thought Mr Norrell could engender in anybody and which even fewer still would have thought Childermass would be capable of feeling. Despite his long years of service he had yet to decide if it was something unwanted, a weakness that he should seek to remove or something so precious that he wish this and more to happen with far greater frequency than it currently did.
"I hope that to always be the case," he replied wishing it as dearly as he had anything in his life.


[1] As a youth, before securing employment with Mr Norrell Childermass had endured many things, few of which he would ever share with a living soul. Pity for his often destitute state had been one of these things, and as such he found little to like about such an emotion. Pity was, to his way of thinking, merely a salve for the conscience of those doing the pitying and of little help or use to the one being pitied.

[2] While it was true that George Allcorn was a captain, he was not, as Childermass knew and Mr Norrell did not, a military or naval man. He had been a fisherman who having grown tired of his wife (who was herself tired of his gambling) had made a new life for himself in Libson rather more by luck than judgement.