Friday, September 3, 2010

In Which Introductions Are Made

From the diary of Dulcie, Crown Princess of Bentlefay:

Well, Lynde’s young man got here today with her father, and I suppose I will have to let her go to him, damn his eyes.

They got here in the midafternoon right before I took my rest, and since of course they don’t travel with a herald they caught us on the hop. The majordomo sent a maidservant to give us the word, and she came in with her eyes as big as saucers and her hands clasped, and said “Please, your majesty, Mistress Lynde’s young man is here, and, oh please, Mistress Lynde, will you--?”

But by then Lynde was gone, and I had to scurry back into my regular dress and race down the stairs, by which point their first meeting was all over. I was disappointed at the time, since I always find that sort of thing very romantic to watch, but it worked out for the best, since Lynde was able to present her father Owen and her betrothed Tom without delay.

Master Falconer is a large old man, not as large as Lynde anymore since he is bowed by rheumatism and age, but still the sketched outline of the burly arms-master he once was. He has snow-white hair and an enormous, plumy white moustache, and his cheekbones and chin are hard and prominent the way they are in the north. His face is burned brown from the sun, and his eyes are as gray and bleak as the north wind. He bowed to me, awkwardly because of his rheumatism but quite correctly, and said I was a precious flower, or some such vintage-flavored compliment.

“I can see you mean to be a terror with the ladies, Master Falconer,” I said to tease him.

“I surely do,” he answered, not teasing at all. “We don’t have much scope for it up in Dumcruckle.”

“Father, you’re incorrigible,” said Lynde. “Come and meet Tom, your majesty.”

Tom is somewhat below medium height, which makes him a little taller than I am but almost ludicrously shorter than Lynde, and he is slight and perhaps a little bit stooped, in the manner of those who spend their days indoors. His hair is that dull mouse-color that the old nursemaids call dishwater, and his eyes are large and softly brown like a dog’s. His face is long and prematurely lined, with the grooves that go from nose to chin and with the laugh-wrinkles that radiate out from the eyes. The general impression he gives is of a schoolmaster with a slightly disreputable secret.

“So you are here to take Lynde from me,” I said, because I was still feeling a little bit resentful.

He grinned. “You can think of it this way,” he said, “you aren’t losing a bodyguard, you’re gaining a librarian. I think you are getting an excellent bargain, myself. In any case,” he grew solemn for a moment, “I will try to make it worth your while.”

I understood what he was trying to say, and relented. “I am sure it will be worth while,” I replied. “You needn’t try too hard.”

“Of course we will both try hard,” Lynde interrupted, not understanding at all. “Tom is not a slacker, any more than I am.”

At that moment Father and Mother created a diversion by bustling in.

“There!” Mother exclaimed. “Oh, Lynde, I am so pleased that your family has been able to make their journey safely.”

So the introductions had to be made all over again, and this time more formally, on account of Mother and Father being Queen and King. That did not stop Master Falconer from ogling Mother, and for the first time in my living memory I actually saw her at a loss for words.

“Your majesty,” Master Falconer said, “your face has just earned every drop of blood I ever shed for Bentlefay.

“Not that I wouldn’t have been pleased to do it for an ugly Queen, of course,” he added hastily.

“Well,” said Mother after an pause, “that certainly is one way of looking at it.”

“No offense, of course.”

“Oh, not in the world.”

I am offended,” Father said solemnly. “I didn’t think at my time of life that I would be faced with a rival, Master Falconer.”

“I couldn’t be a rival, your majesty,” Master Falconer said reasonably. “Not to a man who can clap me in prison any time he likes.”

“I suppose it is nice to know that there is something stopping you,” said Mother, and everyone laughed.

Tom went over similarly well, striking just the right balance between courtesy and friendliness.

“I feel that I am a poor addition to Lynde, but I hope that I will be a worthy one,” he said to Mother.

“If you can get that benighted library into some kind of order, you’ll be worth your weight in gold,” Father interrupted. “That room is like an albatross around my neck and I’ll be glad to hand over responsibility for it.”

“Excellent,” Tom answered. “I look forward to getting my hands on it. I enjoy a really knotty cataloguing problem.” And indeed his brown eyes gleamed acquisitively as he said it, so apparently he really does.

“We are pleased to have you here, for your own sake as well as Lynde’s,” Mother said more formally, and then fell back into the vernacular. “She has been pining like a dairy maid ever since we got word you were coming.”

Lynde blushed. “Of course we haven’t seen each other for quite a long time,” she began, and stuck there.

Mother took pity on her. “Why don’t you take Master Crowder to the solar and show him the view? Your father can come with the rest of us to my sitting-room and tell me more about my face.”

So Lynde and Tom went with alacrity, and everyone else made their way to Mother’s sitting- room while I trailed back to my room for my rest – a little bit irritably, I don’t mind admitting. It seems I won’t even have the comfort of loathing the wretch. I suppose I didn’t imagine that Lynde would choose unwisely, but for some reason I don’t feel all that much better about it.

No comments: