It is nothing but self-kindness to be kind to the new. Everything here was strange and Veronika wasn’t completely convinced that this wasn’t an elaborate prank. Still, she ought to be polite. She smiled back at the woman cautiously. “So I’m in the right place, then?”
“Well, if you’re looking for Ancient Acquisitions, then yes, you’re in the right place. I’m Severn Herrley, by the way. I can probably help you with anything you need in this department. And several other departments as well.” She winked, which Veronika felt was a little strange, but hers not to question why and all that. “So what do they have you looking for today?”
“It’s— Wait, not Alice?” Hadn’t Eleanor said don’t let Alice give you any trouble?
“Alice? Oh, Alice. That’s, ah, what we call the wig stands, or at least the really creepy ones. No, Severn. And you were looking for…?”
Veronika swallowed the feeling, again, that this was all a giant joke at her expense. “It seems I’m looking for a corn husk doll from the homes at Mesa Verde.”
Severn Herrley smiled. Veronika had no idea how to take that expression. “Ah, the corn husk dolls. They’re adorable. Come this way. Things come in through here, you see, and then they are prepared for movement to elsewhere in the Bellamy and placed. So the dolls would go…”
“Oh, a quiz.” Veronika let herself smile at the challenge. “I’d say, either in, ah, North American culture or The History of Childhood. Or both, of course.” She made the last one a joke.
“Or both.” Severn Herrley looked far too amused for it to actually be a joke to her.
Since she couldn’t imagine an archive splitting an artifact, so she assumed either they would flip a coin or take turns with it, or they had a rule set for it.
But Severn was continuing. “You’re right. And right now History of Childhood is arguing that it ought to be theirs, but North American Culture has priority because they had a hand in the acquisition. They got us the tip,” Severn explained. “Maybe this is Mariyam’s way of keeping it out of the way for a while to slow the argument down, give it a chance to cool down. This way.” She stepped out from behind her desk, turned to be sure Veronika was following her, and led into the rows of shelves and boxes.
“So Acquisitions actually… acquires, then? Out in the field?” She did not sound out of breath, she was sure of it. But she was definitely having to hurry to keep up with the woman.
“Well, yes.” Severn looked back at her. Veronika suddenly felt about three inches tall. “How else would one acquire – oh, because you were at the front desk.” She clucked. “They should start new people back here and not up there. The best things come from us and the other two acquisitions departments. Certainly, we do get donations of various sorts of things, yes, but the Bellamy would not have nearly the collection it did it if relied on those donations. No, the best things indeed come from Acquisitions.”
“I’ll remember that,” Veronika assured her, feeling far too silly to try to ask any more questions right now – except that she was herself, and she wanted to ask something. She picked something that seemed safe, that wouldn’t get her another one of those Looks. “So, ah. How many field agents does the Bellamy have?”
“Oh, I have no idea. Even the number that Ancient Acquisitions has varies wildly – right now, it’s four, but a month ago, it was fourteen – but the Bellamy has field agents working outside of the Acquisitions departments as well. Of course there’s the Donor Relations Department – they’re interested in funding, more or less – and then there’s a couple field agents in PR. But since the Bellamy has more departments than even I have heard of, I couldn’t bring myself to even hazard a guess.”
Veronika closed her eyes for a moment, trying to bring to mind the building she’d come up to this morning – had it really been just this morning? It had been a wide and stately, sprawling English Manor, yes. Several stories tall in the middle with peaked roofs, she was sure of that. Windows lined up like soldiers, stately and marching in rows across the front. There had been very nice landscaping, the sort of gardening you read about in Victorian novels. She opened her eyes. “Is all of the Bellamy… is it all housed here?” she asked, far more cautiously than she might have just a few moments ago.
Severn turned to look at her. The woman was beginning to smile slowly, and this time Veronika didn’t feel like she was being laughed or scoffed at. “Now,” the woman decided, “you’re beginning to understand. Or at least you are beginning to understand that you don’t understand. Good.” The woman nodded sharply. “I like you so far, and that, Miss – Ah, yes, Miss Veronika Bellamy, good – that is a good sign. Both are good signs.” She laughed shortly, possibly at herself. “But it’s good that you’re beginning to feel the edges of your lack of understanding. As for the answer to your question – mm. At the moment, the best I can do is ‘yes and no.’ The Bellamy is far larger than it appears on the outside, and some of this is the nature of old buildings. Some of it is the basements and sub-basements, of course, and some people would be content with that portion of the answer. And some of it – some is the nature of the Bellamy.”
“Like turning left to get where your internal compass says ought to be directly in front of you.”
“Ah, the first floor stacks. They have a bit of a sense of humor – don’t let them bully you too much. That’s something you’ll have to get used to – or, I suppose, run screaming like some of them do. A lot of this place does have its own personality, and I’m not just talking about the skeletons or the staff – or, ha, the ones where you’re not sure which you’re talking to.”
“Hah.” Veronika’s laugh was weak, humorless, and a little panicked.
“Oh, no, here.” Severn reached past a shelf and pulled out a stool, which she shoved towards Veronika. “Sit down, take deep breaths, and think about something you like a great deal. Something which grounds you.”
Veronika sat and put her elbows on her knees, her hands on her face. “Grounds. Grounds. Okay. Okay, there’s uh. There’s the rock, ha. Not just any rock, there’s the bedrock. It’s native to the land you’re in. Everything else changes. The soil changes. The people change. The buildings, the artifacts. But the bedrock is the bedrock. We can touch it, and it’s real. It isn’t an archaeological artifact.”
She didn’t look up. She didn’t want to see what Severn thought of that.
“That…” There was a pause. Veronika didn’t let herself look up yet. “That is interesting, and I like it. Are you feeling a bit better?”
“A little bit.” She sat up slowly and carefully. “Thank you, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“It happens to everyone new here, I promise you. There’s a good deal of strange here, and a great number of amazing and wonderful things, and some which cross the line between those two. If this is the only time you need to take a break today, I’ll be surprised.”
“Miss Haas made it sound like I would need to really push through to get the finding all done before the end of the day. And she seemed very firm on that end time, too.”
“Oh, that’s Miryam for you. She doesn’t like overtime. She won’t get you in trouble for it, mind you, but if you can, I’d say get as much as you can done and then be back at that central desk down there right before whenever your clockout time is supposed to be. If you’re already on your second piece, you’re probably doing pretty well already, honestly. Everyone thinks Local History will be easy to find, and then, well, it rarely is.”
“There does seem to be a trick to the stacks…” She caught herself in a giggle. “A trick.” Another giggle bubbled up. “Oh, oh, by Dewey, Chiu, and Ranganathan. Oh, and here I was thinking that some place like the Fillion might be haunted, but not, not the Bellamy. But there – you said it, about the head. The wig stands. Alice? And the stacks – I’m not imagining things. This place-“
“The Bellamy could be said to have a personality,” Severn answered slowly, “but that would be a bit misleading. I’d say it’s more likely that the place has several personalities, some of them clashing. I’m not actually sure if it’s actually haunted…”
“Alice is, ah. Probably not a ghost. That sort of thing has its own department as well, and it’s not so much my speciality, I’m afraid. But Alice is definitely an entity— oh, dear, I don’t wish to distress you further. Not on your first day; you seem so promising.”
“That’s another thing.” Veronika plowed on, undeterred. “The departments. Miss Haas said there were maybe ten people working here, but I’ve met, let’s see, assuming we’re not counting Alice—”
“She doesn’t do a lot of work, no.” Severn smiled faintly. Veronika echoed the smile.
“Miss Haas, Uma, Sylvester, Eleanor, and you, and then there was Delphine on the phone.” she ticked off on her fingers, “and it looks like there are at least another seven departments I haven’t visited, and you mentioned, oh, dear, Jul—”
“Juian Coxeole, yes.”
“Unless the other departments are woefully understaffed…?” She let it hang as a question.
Severn patted her on the shoulder. “I would suggest that you not let inconsistencies bother you too much for at least your first week here, as we’d prefer you not go mad. But as for that one, it’s easy. Miryam is, ah, a little unhinged in time on occasion, and she remembers when the Bellamy was a much smaller place, with quite a few less people working here. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that she’s just forgotten about a few departments.”
“But the test…?”
She wasn’t sure if having the place not be woefully understaffed was an advantage when it appeared to be run by someone who had trouble with the day — or year? Possibly decade?
“Oh, no, we create that, a bunch of us. They’re all different; there’s at least twenty of them and now we’ll make another one, should you make it to the end.”
“If I do… That sounds rather ominous?”
“Well, some people really do bail out early on — either after something like Alice or just at the sheer size of the place. One spent an hour yelling about our organization system before storming out. Another one — well, I won’t bore you with the tales ‘till you’ve been here at least a week, but one of them was absolutely terrified of skeletons. Any skeletons. I still think we could have used her as a cataloguer in one of the books-only departments, but Miryam was firm. She does get set in her ways. I suppose many of us do, after a while.”
Veronika managed a smile. “Well, if I start feeling myself getting too calcified after I’ve been here a while, I’ll come talk to you, and you can push me out of the stagnation, how’s that?”
“Only if you agree to do the same for me. Working in artifacts keeps me from getting too stuck, I suppose, because I get to go out in the field, but I did find myself yelling at an intern the other day — we do get interns, possibly because their test is much kinder than the one we send new employees on — that she couldn’t sort things there, that table wasn’t used for sorting. Lucky for me, she got very firm and very polite with me until I gave in.”
Veronika snorted. “I think if you can keep the mentality that it’s lucky, you’re in no danger of getting all that stagnant.” She found her feet slowly. “I have a feeling the Bellamy is the sort of place where you’re expected to learn all of its oddities on your own, but is there anything you can warn me about?”
Severn smiled back at her. “You’re not wrong. Mmm, you worked at the Fillion, you said. Don’t think of the Fillion as a sort of inferior Bellamy; think of it more as a … Bellamy taster plate. We have a very good reputation here, but our reputation is born out of our supreme cataloguing, our enormous catalog itself, and our age. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of oddities — it might mean, indeed, that we have more than our share of such.”
“I saw the live donations holding room.”
Now why had she said that? Of all the things to get disturbed by — to show she was disturbed by! She had handled Alice, for heaven’s sake.
“Ah.” Severn grimaced. “Ah, yes. Uma’s on the front desk? She does love showing that off. It’s part of the Bellamy, yes. But it is not a large part. Now.” She tapped her leg with her hand, clearly indicating that conversation was over. “Let’s get you that corn husk doll and see you on your way.”Want more?