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An Improving Occupation

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“We must see about putting your library back in order,” said Mr Strange, as soon as the vertiginous sensation of being drawn up into the sky had settled, and he could stand tolerably upright once again.

“Yes,” agreed Mr Norrell, casting a disconsolate eye over what had once been his pride and joy. With a sigh, he added, “Though there is precious little left of it to put back in order.”

Strange gave a sympathetic smile, and touched him lightly on the arm. “Come, sir. Let’s see what we may salvage.”

There was indeed precious little to put in order. The Raven King had, it appeared, taken them at their word and accepted all of Mr Norrell’s books as his token of English magic. In their place was a great mass of black feathers and a few torn leaves of pages, which Mr Norrell clutched to his bosom as they gathered them up. Slowly, they set about putting the room back in order as best they could, righting the tables and chairs that had been upended in the chaos, retrieving Mr Norrell’s silver basin from where it had rolled beneath one of the bookshelves, and restoring various sundry articles back to their original state.

It all went well enough, until they came to the scattered shards of porcelain on the floor: shards of porcelain that had until very lately been Mr Henry Lascelles. For a time they simply looked at these shards, with some bewilderment and no inconsiderable degree of unease, remembering that gentleman’s fate.

“Well,” said Strange at last, with rather more composure than he felt, “I suppose we had better clean this up somehow.”

Mr Norrell said nothing, merely stared down at the mess in an attitude of great dismay and repellence. From that, it was evident that the task of clearing away the remains of Mr Lascelles must fall to Strange. To own the truth, he had no very great desire to go anywhere near them either, but it must be done. So, summoning up every ounce of courage he possessed, he bent down and moved to gather up the broken shards.

No sooner had he taken up the first piece than a sudden noise - very like a cry of indignation - startled him so much that he dropped it.

“Mr Norrell?” he cried, looking up to see what the matter was.

But Mr Norrell was looking to him in alarm. “What is it, Jonathan?”

“Did you not cry out?”

Mr Norrell blinked at him, then shook his head. “No, I thought you-” Strange shook his head. “Then, who-?”

Their eyes were drawn at once back to the porcelain on the floor. A most unpleasant suspicion now forming in his mind, Strange reached again for the shard he had first attempted to pick up.

At once, he was assailed by an aggrieved - and disagreeably familiar - voice: “I will not be handled in this manner by you, Mr Strange! Mr Norrell, sir, do something! He cannot be permitted to insult me like this!”

Mr Strange stared. Mr Norrell stared. Gradually, the whole impossible truth of the situation dawned upon them both.

“Oh, my Lord,” breathed Mr Norrell, before dropping to his knees. “Mr Lascelles! Mr Lascelles, is that you?”

“Naturally,” replied the porcelain, in tones of contempt that confirmed the identification beyond all doubt. “Mr Norrell, I insist that you have this villain unhand me at once.”

Despite this rather vexing revelation, Strange felt the itch of a smile about the edges of his mouth. He was about to make some jocose observation to the effect that Mr Lascelles’ sensibilities always had been somewhat delicate, but after a moment’s reflection decided against it. Given the present audience - Mr Lascelles himself, who in his state would be disinclined to perceive the humour of the situation, and Mr Norrell, to whom irony was as incomprehensible as Mandarin - it was likely to go unappreciated.

“I do not know what we should do,” said Mr Norrell, shaking his head. “I suppose we ought to help him.”

“Restore him to human form?” said Strange. “Can it be done?”

Privately, he did not greatly relish the notion of restoring Mr Lascelles to his proper state, considering that directly before the fairy had rendered him ceramic, he had cold-bloodedly shot Mr Black, and had meant to shoot Strange himself. As well as odious, Strange thought that Mr Lascelles might also now be reasonably considered dangerous.

“We know so little about fairy magic,” said Mr Norrell mournfully. “I think we ought to help, but I cannot think how it might be done.”

“Fairy magic,” said Mr Lascelles with a scoff (a bold remark, thought Strange, all things considered). “Mr Norrell, I really must insist that Mr Strange take his hands from me. I will not suffer to be insulted in this vulgar way!”

“Oh, be quiet!” cried Strange, whose head was beginning to ache. “Pitch your voice any higher and you will shatter into a hundred more pieces, and good riddance.”

“There may be something,” said Mr Norrell, with a doubtful look at the mess. “I have not got the book now, of course, but I believe I recall a spell by Pevensey which I might adapt…”

-

“Well?” he said, some time later, looking at Strange with some anxiety. “What is your opinion, Jonathan?”

Strange considered his reply carefully. “He is capital, sir. Truly, I do not think Wedgwood could have created his equal. But - a teapot?”

Mr Norrell sniffed, somewhat defensive. “It was the best I could achieve under the circumstances.”

They both looked again at the result of Mr Norrell’s efforts, now perched upon a small table. Certainly, if Strange tilted his head and half-closed his eyes, he fancied he could recognise something of Mr Lascelles in the long, fluting shape, and the arresting but rather cruel curves of the handle and spout. He was assuredly a very handsome piece, with Mr Lascelles’ undeniable elegance of presentation (perhaps his only redeeming quality), coloured in familiar shades of deep blue-green, cream, and red-gold. If there was a flaw, it was in his base, which seemed somewhat uneven, for it was apt to rattle a little upon the table. It was rattling now, for somewhere inside the teapot, whatever remained of Mr Lascelles’ sensibilities were much incensed against this new situation, and rattling appeared to be the best means afforded to him of expressing his displeasure.

“How dare you abuse me in this fashion!” he cried, in a voice which appeared to issue from the spout. “I will not suffer this treatment, Mr Norrell. I might expect it from Mr Strange - we all know what a villain he is - but from you! I have a mind to call you out at once.”

Seeing Mr Norrell blanch at this dreadful threat, Strange said sharply, “And what would be your choice of weapon, sir? Scalding tea? Not that I should put tea in you, for I’ve no doubt that coming into contact with you would render it poisoned in a moment.

“Now,” he went on, willing himself to calm, “surely even you must allow that Mr Norrell has done you a good turn. It is perhaps not ideal, I grant you, but it strikes me as a great deal more agreeable than lying in pieces on the floor. Frankly, were it left up to me, I should have swept you up and thrown you out directly.”

But even in his new incarnation, Mr Lascelles was intractable. “It is intolerable that a gentleman should be reduced to such a menial object - an article designed to perform a common function! If I must remain porcelain, I demand to be transformed into some objet d’art that better suits my station.”

The last fraying threads of Mr Strange’s patience finally snapped. It had been a very long day, and between their great magical exertions, the shock of their new circumstances, and the sheer absurdity of their present situation, he was in no humour to argue with Mr Lascelles, in any form.

“Well, sir,” he said, snatching him up from the table and ignoring both the teapot’s exclamation of outrage and Mr Norrell’s cry of alarm, “if it is your desire to be merely ornamental, that may be easily arranged.”

And so saying, he put Mr Lascelles up on the very highest shelf in the library and left him there.

-

A Pillar of Eternal Darkness is a queer thing, and it should not be supposed that even the two greatest magicians of the age should adapt to life within one without encountering at least a few difficulties. Their first challenge was in navigating the new labyrinth, for whilst Mr Norrell had found his way out to the garden with tolerable ease whilst fetching the pears for their summoning spell, other parts of Hurtfew Abbey were now considerably harder to find, and they became lost for more than five hours whilst searching for the pantry. Mr Strange attributed this confusion to the haste with which Mr Norrell had realigned the labyrinth, whilst Mr Norrell, not a little stung, maintained that the magic of the Darkness must have interfered with his spell. The resulting debate grew a trifle warm, and when at last they found their way back to the library, Mr Norrell stalked straight to the fireplace, where he affected to ignore Strange by staring determinedly into the flames.

Mr Lascelles, who from his vantage point on the shelf, had perceived that there was some difference between the magicians, said in a confidential manner, “I knew this would happen, Mr Norrell. It is quite evident that Mr Strange intends to employ his new dark powers to overwhelm you and make himself master of Hurtfew. But there is no call to fear, sir. I may lack the means to fight him, but I may still observe him and advise you…”

But even Mr Norrell was not so unworldly as to be taken in by the insinuations of a talking teapot, and he cast a sharp look up at the shelf.

“Mr Lascelles, that sort of deceitful behaviour did not become you when you were human, and now that you are a teapot, it is quite absurd.”

“Making trouble again?” said Strange, casting a sharp look of his own upwards as he stepped up to Mr Norrell’s side. He drew a breath, then with a broad smile, held out his hand. “Mr Norrell, I hope you will accept my most sincere apology. I should never have said what I did about your sense of direction. You bear no resemblance at all to a headless chicken.”

A little smile came to Mr Norrell’s face, and he took Strange’s hand gratefully. “On the contrary, Jonathan, I think you were quite correct about that right turn after the third staircase.”

“Well, then,” said Strange, with evident pleasure, “what do you say to looking over those pages we salvaged?”

“I should like it of all things,” said Mr Norrell warmly.

“Splendid! And,” Strange added with an arch look up at Mr Lascelles, “I think a cup of tea would go a great way to reviving our spirits.”

-

“I quite retract my previous statement,” declared Mr Strange later, as the two magicians sat before a roaring fire and looked through the loose pages that were the sole remnant of Mr Norrell’s library. “Mr Lascelles does in fact make an excellent cup of tea.” To underline the compliment, he took another sip.

“I am glad that we can find some useful employment for him,” said Mr Norrell, casting a glance at the teapot on the small table between them, who looked very well with the set they had found in the kitchen. “Magical objects are so very unpredictable at the best of times, and in such a case as his - wholly unrecorded, as far as I recall - the perils must be even greater. But I hope he might find this occupation improving.”

Unfortunately, Mr Lascelles’ character seemed little improved thus far, and his attitude toward these encouraging sentiments was one of base ingratitude.

“It is insupportable that I should be reduced to this position,” he complained. “I will not be treated like a mere servant by you, Mr Norrell. I will not-”

He continued at length in a similar vein, and even went on to expound upon the terrible vengeance he intended to visit upon both of them as soon as he was able. However, as most of these disagreeable plans necessitated the use of hands - appendages of which Mr Lascelles was manifestly no longer in possession - they were not unduly worried, and continued to talk pleasantly about magic and the Darkness and their plans for their new life in Other Lands.

At one point, listening to the teapot’s continued invective, Strange remarked, “You know, it is quite pleasant in its way, to have another voice about the place (do take another ratafia biscuit, sir). Listening to him, I could almost imagine that we were back in Hanover-square during my apprenticeship.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mr Norrell, smiling at the remembrance of that happy time. “It is most companionable.”

“And, if I may be permitted, he is more agreeable company as a teapot than he ever was as a man.” Suddenly, Strange smiled. “What a pity it is that Childermass is no longer with us. I dare say he would find this most entertaining.”

Thereupon, Mr Lascelles uttered a little shriek of fury, and a jet of steam poured suddenly from his spout.