On the last day of my grounding, Mum woke me up well before the Daydawn. I would have preferred to stay in my room all day and draw with my new pencils, but Mum had other ideas.
"Up and out, lazybones," she said firmly. "You're going over to serve Mrs. Townley today."
I groaned and turned over, but Mum wasn't having any of that. She summarily drew me right out of bed and onto the cold floor.
"Mu-UUUM!" I whined. "I was GETTING UP!"
"Mm-hmm. And now you are up. If you hurry and get dressed you'll have time for breakfast."
I dressed in the half-light, fuming. Mum was a morning person by nature; she believed my preferred leisurely style of waking wasted half the day. Personally, I thought her early-morning perkiness was making me lose faith in humanity. I rested very briefly on the bed, leaning my cheek against the window. Outside I could make out darkening layers of grey mist, so that the trees near me seemed solid enough, but the ones further away seemed to soften at the edges, progressively losing their reality in the fog until they finally vanished into nonexistence. I would have just let my eyes close and allowed everything else to vanish for a while, but I could sense Mum coming back up after me, so I darted out and down to the kitchen to avoid any further indignity to my person.
After breakfast (apple-walnut pancakes with maple syrup, delicious enough to restore my faltering faith in people) I lit out for Mrs. Townley's place. I've always loved fog, but Dad had repeatedly warned me about how dangerous it could be to fly blind, particularly in the dark, so I went on foot to the Townley house. The foggy cold seeped into the layers of my clothing and helped wake me -- brought me to a state of trembling clarity, in fact -- so that when the first notes of that morning's Daydawn sounded I was unusually well-prepared to listen.
I've often wondered who began Corey's singing tradition. Most, though not all, of our ancestors were Puritans, who had an uneasy relationship with anything that might be construed as merrymaking. Though most of those with the knack were more freethinking than their neighbors, they still must have been shaped by the strict, humorless culture that had sprung up around those exacting beliefs. Who was it that defeated the old Puritan notion that voices were fit only for atonal chanting of dirge-like psalms, and replaced it with the wordless, boundless beauty of numerous voices opening like morning glories to the sun? But as the fog lightened and thinned, as more voices rose and harmonized together in this Daydawn, and as I spontaneously joined in the singing, I realized it didn't matter how it had happened -- that it had happened was enough. Beauty never need be explained, only embraced.
Mrs. Townley was waiting for me in her doorway, Peck standing regally on her shoulder.
"Well, child, ready for some spring cleaning?" she asked as I came up the front steps.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I answered, and she chuckled.
"Well, then, let's get to it."
The Townley house was one of the oldest houses in Corey, and the most extensive; generations of Townley men had added to the house, expanding and revising its many rooms. It had always seemed sad to me that the Townleys had never had children; that Mrs. Townley lived all alone in a house meant to be filled with family. I missed Mr. Townley, with his great booming laugh and his habit of passing out homemade sweets to Corey's children. His name now topped a headstone in Corey's cemetery.
All that morning and most of the afternoon I spent airing out and cleaning rooms, dusting rows of old books, polishing silverware, oiling the great dining table that seated ten. Occasionally Peck would fly in to see what I was doing, and I'd wave for Mrs. Townley's benefit. Although Mrs. Townley kept the rooms up as well as she could, there was a lot to do, but between us we managed to finish up the entire house -- all but two rooms. Mrs. Townley preferred to tidy her own bedroom herself -- "Peck's nest is in there, child, and he makes an unseemly mess" -- and the locked room just next to it. I wondered what was in there; I supposed it had Mr. Townley's effects in it.
Just as we were finishing up, Mrs. Ingersoll came by with a meal for Mrs. Townley. We all sat around an edge of the big, gleaming dining table and ate, talking and laughing (even Peck laughed, a raucous caw) until Mum sent a message for me to come home.
"How's Mrs. Townley?" Mum asked as I came in.
"So, are you starting to get the idea?"
"I think I got the idea three days ago, Mum," I muttered.
"Glad to hear it. I just want to be sure you understand what you owe the Conscient. We take--"
"--care of each other," I said in perfect unison with her. "We all contribute."
Mum smiled. "All right, you get it. Your grounding's over. Keep your nose clean, young lady."
I rolled my eyes at her and swooped out the window, on my way to the Herricks' place. I figured I was overdue for some mindless fun with Janie. Besides, if we were busy doing something together, maybe she'd be distracted from Finlay for a while.