In Which A Milestone is Reached
Spring was in the air, and buds were just appearing upon the ends of the trees tender branches that the previous year, had altogether missed seeing the fiery-headed artist pass beneath their gaze. That spring had come and gone with no sign of the bereaved heiress appearing on the streets of the town, or in the park. People talked, they rumored and conjectured, but none knew what had become of her. Had they looked up at the window of a particular garret room and seen a candle burning late each night, they would have only been more confused. At last, they gave her up – all but the trees, and ceased to trouble themselves about her.
Now the wind stirred the gossip about, and each swaying branch leaned closer to see as a figure passed beneath them, just after the frost had finally been banished north where it belonged, and the sun began to show it's face upon a daily basis. The figure was of a young girl wearing a light colored dress, fair to look upon, perhaps a bit too pale for health, but with shining blue eyes, bright copper-colored hair, and a large manuscript held firmly under one arm.
She stopped to ask directions of a woman with a stained shawl carrying a market basket who shrugged and hurried by, but then stopped and stared after the young lady as she continued up the street. A man at last pointing her the direction she wished to go, the young lady continued through the slums until she reached a slightly more prosperous-looking row of establishments, and entered the door of a shop whose sign proclaimed it to be:
"BURNS PRINTING CO."
The door opened with a jangle of bells, and Maggie stepped inside the tidy shop which smelt of ink, paper, and wood shavings.
"Hello?" she called, there not being any attendant in sight. Then Maggie heard a stirring coming from the back room, and momentarily a figure stepped into the doorway, wiping his hands upon his large ink-smeared apron. It was a young man with lank light brown hair, and deep brown eyes under heavy brows, and he looked at Maggie with a mixture of curiosity and interrupted boredom.
"Can I help you?" he enquired, seeing the enormous stack of pages she held in both hands.
"I certainly hope so," Maggie said, setting her burden down upon the counter with a loud thud. "I am looking to find a publisher for this work, and I heard that Mr. Burns of Burns Printing Co. is always interested in discovering something new. Well, this is very new," she said. "I finished it last night."
"My uncle is not in at present, but I will tell him you came. What is it?" the young man asked, craning his neck to try and read the large title, which to him was upside down.
"Never could learn to do that," he muttered as Maggie obligingly spun it around for his benefit. "A Complete Timeline of The World's History By Date and Geographical Location," he read aloud. "Written by Eustace Reid and Mortimer Clancy." He shook his head. "I can't speak for my uncle, but that sounds like dreadfully dull stuff. He's lately been publishing novels and books of poetry. My, but that's big, though."
Maggie was looking at him with a queer expression on her face.
"Have we met before?"
"I was just wondering the same thing," the young man said slowly; he extended his hand. "My name's Orion Burns – my uncle owns this place, and I work for him here."
"Mortimer – Maggie – Clancy," Maggie smiled, taking his hand.
"We have met before... do you remember me? We spoke several years ago in the park. And I think –" she lowered her voice, and leaned closer, her eyes sparkling mischievously, "– that we beat those ragamuffins rather soundly at snowballing."
Orion beamed roundly. "Of course. How could I have forgotten?" He put a hand to his forehead. "It's all the work I've been doing. Drives everything else from my mind..."
"I knew someone like that," Maggie smiled.
"Oh no, but I hate it. I wish I could be anywhere but here..." Orion sighed, and then slapped his hands to the counter.
"Well, it was good to see you, I will be in trouble if I don't finish up before uncle returns. Bring it back some other day, and he'll have a look at it."
"If you don't mind, I'd rather wait for him," Maggie asserted stoutly. "But don't trouble yourself with me me – you should finish your work."
"It'd be a nice excuse not to, if you'll stay," muttered young Orion through his teeth. "I have been dying for something interesting to do."
"When will your uncle be returning?" Maggie asked, watching the lad as he ducked his head to pull off his apron. He seated himself upon a high stool behind the counter and shrugged.
"Half an hour."
Maggie looked about her in curiosity, and finally asked,
"What do you do here?"
"Nothing worth mentioning."
Maggie looked quizzically him. "I'm sure that's not true."
"It is. All I do is work for uncle, and –" he heaved a sigh.
"Study." He said the word with the most dolourous expression on his face, and subsided into gloomy silence. A moment later he explained,
"My uncle raised me here; my parents are gone for missionaries in Borneo. They want me to either following his footsteps – be a publisher – or theirs, which in either case requires studying. My uncle has enrolled me in the nearest university for this autumn, and he wants me to be ready."
"Well, you should read this timeline then. You will never have to study another history book."
"I'll never live long enough to do anything else, by the looks of it," Orion joked, eying the size of the gigantic manuscript. "No, thank you, miss."
"Don't you like history?"
"Not at all, it's so confusing."
"This is a record of everything going on in every place in the world for all of the centuries that have ever been." Maggie smiled at the timeline. "Perhaps if you could understand how everything fits together, and see the great span of history, you would like it more."
"Knowing all of that would only confuse me more. I have enough trouble remembering the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Wessex, and the Earl of Sussex, and keeping them all straight."
Maggie extended her hand. "A fellow complacent."
"A what?" Orion looked confused as he took her hand and shook it. Then he yanked his hand back, and examined it, apologizing for it's stained condition.
"I suppose one should wash the ink off before shaking the hand of a fine lady," he grinned.
"What makes you think I am a fine lady?" asked Maggie.
"Well – you just look... fine." Orion shrugged. "There's so many people nowadays who don't."
Just then, the shop door behind them opened, and Mr. Burns, head of the establishment entered, beaming jovially when he realized they had a customer. He was a broad-shouldered, stoutly-built man with bushy brown hair, a thick beard, and deep brown eyes like his nephew's.
"What, Orion!" He boomed. "Private interviews with lasses while I'm away, eh?"
Orion flushed. "She 's something she wants to get published. A book, rather– what did you say it was?"
"A Complete Timeline of The World's History By Date and Geographical Location," Maggie said quickly. "I do hope you'll take a look at it if you have a moment."
"I'll need more than a moment to look through that, lass," Mr. Burns said, wide eyed. "Did you write it?"
Maggie pointed to the names. "I finished it. It was begun by Eustace Reid, and I was just the illustrator at that point."
Orion chuckled. "I don't blame the poor fellow for giving it up at last! What on earth made you finish it for him?"
Maggie's face was sober. "He died," she said.
Both Orion and his uncle looked up quickly. "You, sir, need to learn to govern your tongue," muttered Mr. Burns to his shocked nephew. "Apologize to the lady."
"I – I'm so sorry... I didn't know –" he stammered, but Maggie smiled quietly.
"It's alright. You asked a question. That's the answer."
Orion subsided into humiliated silence as his uncle turned page after page of the voluminous chronology, filled with notes in a fine script, vivid sketches, some of which were in color, maps, diagrams, dates, names and lengthy descriptions of historical happenings all over the world through the centuries. At last he looked up.
"Are you sure just two people wrote this work?"
Maggie shook her head. "Only one of us. Eustace wrote nearly all of it. I only finished the last few centuries, and drew the pictures."
"How long ago did you begin this?"
"It took twenty-three years – Eustace's entire life – and ten years of mine."
The man shook his head, and continued to read as Maggie held her breath. At last she could not resist.
"Is it good?" she asked.
Mr. Burns looked up. "It is amazing! I have never found such a treasure trove of information. Why, if every student could study history from this source, we would become a nation of historians and artists! This is really a phenomenal work, girl."
"I like the pictures," Orion hazarded, fearful of saying something amiss too soon after his first misdemeanor. "They're good. I can't draw a thing."
"Does anyone else know there is such a work in existence?" Mr. Burns demanded. Maggie shook her head.
"It has been kept a secret throughout it's composition, and yours is the first printers that I heard of, through Orion here," Maggie indicated, causing the young man to smile, and feel somewhat wanted in the world once again.
"That is very lucky that you have not shown anyone this. Such a precious compilation of work requires the utmost secrecy. How on earth did you manage in such a gossipy town? You must have barricaded yourselves in a library for a decade, and not spoken to anyone else!"
"Something like that," murmured Maggie with a smile. "So you will take it?"
"Without hesitation. Orion –" Mr. Burns ordered. "Send word to our other clients that they will have to wait indefinitely, and lock the front door. We are now closed. This work is going to press today."
Tears came to Maggie's eyes, and she embraced Mr. Burns, much to his surprise and pleasure. "Thank you so much," she managed.
"You are more than welcome, miss. I should be thanking you for bringing it here before anywhere else. Now, before we begin to draw up a contract, I must get your name. Is this you? Mortimer Clancy?" He looked at the cover of the manuscript.
"Yes, it is. Funny name for a girl, isn't it?"
"There must be a good reason for that," Mr. Burns chuckled.
"Actually, there is... But it's a long story."
"Time enough for stories later, right Orion?" winked Mr. Burns. "We will be seeing a good deal of each other over the next few months, I believe..."
And he was right. It was late that night before the lights went out in Burns Printing Co. and a very happy young heiress went home through the dark streets, sniffing the crisp spring air.