The new moon had come and gone, and no sign of the fox.
Perry's stone arm seemed especially heavy today, his whole back and heart aching with the weight of it, and the accursed sling digging painfully into his shoulder. The Gentry did not tolerate imperfections, but he had hoped—well.
Mr. Inglesides cleared his throat. Perry shook his head to clear it, and with an apologetic smile picked a few pastries half at random, pointing at them somewhat awkwardly with his left arm.
"Woolgathering, eh?" Mr. Inglesides chatted as he gathered and bagged the pastries. He looked faintly sympathetic. Perry wondered what expression he himself had been making a moment ago, and quickly schooled it into something neutral and friendly.
"My head is rather in the clouds this morning," he agreed, passing a few coins across the counter and taking the bag of pastries in return. "Good morning, Mr. Inglesides."
The shop bell jingled cheerily on his way out, and he grimaced faintly. As he made his way through town he inclined his head to people he knew, which was most of them, and a pair of older women tutted sympathetically over his sling as he passed them in the square.
The bookshop bell was less gratingly cheerful than the bakery's, at least. Mrs. Etaris was at the counter working through ledgers, and smiled at him as he entered.
"Good morning, Mr. Dart. I'm afraid I've sent Mr. Greenwing away on a few little errands, but he should be back before too long." She waved him towards the armchairs.
He passed the bag of pastries across to her. "For hardworking booksellers."
"Thank you kindly, Mr. Dart." She looked him over for a moment, her eyes uncomfortably keen, and said approvingly, "Young Mr. Greenwing could certainly use some feeding up."
"I couldn't agree more," Perry said fervently. Jemis—Mr. Greenwing—was less worryingly pale, now that he'd stopped sneezing at every tickle of wind, and the dark circles under his eyes had faded to something one could almost ignore. But the man was still as scrawny as a grass-fed dog, and he didn't eat half as much as Perry thought he should. Mrs. Etaris, at least, seemed an ally on this point, and Perry was comforted by the thought.
Duty done for the moment, he settled himself in an armchair and began the arduous task of filling his pipe. It had once been a ritual as easy and comforting as the smoking itself. It was not as difficult now as it had been two weeks ago, but it was still a clumsy and awkward process. He kept his eyes focused resolutely on the task at hand, and refused to wonder what Mrs. Etaris might be thinking.
He had just lit the pipe when Mr. Greenwing returned, laden with parcels and balancing a wrapped dish precariously on top.
“Mrs. Henny the Post said she had made too much pecan pie last night, and thought you might appreciate the leftovers,” he said over his shoulder to Mrs. Etaris, having bumped the door open with his hip. She hurried out from behind the counter to retrieve the pie before it fell. “Oh, good morning, Mr. Dart.” He fumbled the rest of the parcels to the counter at last, and turned to offer Perry one of his odd Morrowlea bows.
“Mr. Dart has brought us pastries from the baker’s, so we will be well-fed today, it seems,” Mrs. Etaris said, casting a critical eye over the parcels. “I’ll get us some coffee, Mr. Greenwing, and then we can begin entering these into inventory.” She bustled away.
Mr. Greenwing looked Perry up and down with much the same expression as Mrs. Etaris had eyed her packages. “Out mushroom picking again last night, Mr. Dart?”
“Something like that.” Perry offered him a smile, which he hoped looked less strained than it felt, and puffed quietly on his pipe as Mr. Greenwing began to unwrap the parcels.
“I do hope it wasn’t as eventful as the last time we went together.”
“Oh, hardly. Rather the opposite.” In all, Perry thought he would have preferred another night of stumbling into thickets and streams and cult rituals to sitting quietly under a new moon, waiting for someone who wasn’t coming. “No mushrooms to speak of.”
Mr. Greenwing paused, frowning at him, but before he could speak Mrs. Etaris returned, carrying two mugs, utensils, and a stack of plates arranged neatly on a wooden tray.
“Would you like some pie, Mr. Dart?” she said, already unwrapping the cloth from Mrs. Henny’s dish.
“I’ve never been one to turn down a slice of pecan,” he agreed amiably, and in short order had a plate balanced carefully on the arm of his chair. Mr. Greenwing looked at his own plate, laden with a particularly large slice and two of the pastries, and frowned.
“Do the Embroidery Club often offer each other leftovers, Mrs. Etaris?” he asked casually, poking at the pie with his fork. “I believe this is the third time this week.”
“Oh, now and again,” Mrs. Etaris said airily. “Ah, the volumes on East Voonran pig husbandry for Mrs. Fetwright have come in at last, excellent. Do you recall how to enter this into the ledger, Mr. Greenwing?”
Perry sat back contentedly with pie and pipe, tuning out the business conversation in favor of the scratch of pen, the rustle of paper, the murmur of books waiting to be read. He had not slept this morning, when he returned home after dawn heartsick and sore. His walls had seemed to weep, though he had not, and his pillows had tittered with the morning birds. But there was none of that here, and the pie was good, and the smell of coffee and ink seemed to swirl about the store…
The door banged open with a clatter and tinkle of bells, jerking Perry out of his doze. The Duke of Fillering Pool entered with a boisterous, “Good morning!” His trousers were all over dirt and grass stains up to the knee, and his arms were full of plant cuttings. He held a paper-wrapped packet in one hand. “Oh, Jemis, I stopped at the public house for breakfast, but it was too much for me to finish—it’s a ham and cheese quiche, you like those. Here.” He dropped the packet on the counter beside Mr. Greenwing’s pie and wandered away to the back staircase, humming tunelessly to himself.
Struggling to keep a straight face, Perry caught Mrs. Etaris’s eye, and saw that she, too, was heroically fighting a smile. Mr. Greenwing failed to notice, as he was occupied staring after the Duke, brow furrowed.
“He doesn’t even like ham quiche!”