More importantly, thank you for your words, comments, encouragements - I have not been responding much in the comments but I am definitely reading each one gratefully.
I have been thinking about the apparent "slow" start, the "info dump" of it and in part think that yes it does perhaps need review; yet when I consider the classics I have enjoyed find that many of these can begin in such a fashion, that such a start is consistent with the form of style and cannot help but wonder if it were in an actual book format whether it would feel nearly quite so "info dumpy" as it does in this electronic format, where expectations are different...? Hmm.
Anyway, on with the show.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
A thing that ought not be
word ~ definition …………
All night Economous lay upon his tandem-chair, wondering, steadily doubting that he had seen what he had seen, dreaming of rabbits leaping from bushes and alleys. In the morning he rose unwilling to return to the Moldwood, just as he had been unwilling to go back into the doubly-forbidden hearthwood of Lo when he was small. Yet as the day progressed, he could not shake his fascination nor quash the steadily increasing need to seek a repetition of the encounter and resolve what in his intellectuals – his thinking – he held as unlikely yet his wind – his soul – held as certain. By mid afternoon he found himself ambling upon the opposite walk of South Arm, past the shabby park’s east gate, glancing at the iron-bound entrance and the dark trees beyond repeatedly through the bustle of carriage and handcart. Up and back he went, almost toppling into several well dressed day-strolling folks many times in his inattention to his actual path.
For its part, the Moldwood was as quiet and inscrutable as ever.
Surely what he had witnessed yesterday was an imaginary figmurement?
The dark treetops swayed in the freshening breeze of the afternoon pipistrelle – so common in Spring – and seemed to beckon the would-be fabulist within.
Finally Economous dared to cross to the gate side of South Arm but as he approached the black-wrought portal he spied the same water-caddie of the day before standing beneath a red lamppost not two hundred yards further down past the gate, crying, “Goose a gulp!”
As if prompted by the regard upon him, the fellow turned and regarded Economous closely, an amused wisdom growing clear on the forward fellow’s mien.
With a small start and thinking himself observed in his absurdity, Economous refused to lets his cheeks redden but with a tug on his neckerchief and a touch to his hat, hurried past the gate, the park and the water-caddie and made for the long miles back to his garret.
As the sun hid himself behind the Branden Downs – the low hills northwest of the great city – in a blaze of storm-promising orange, Economous footsore and ill-humoured finally found home. Shaded Rafters was its unlikely name: a narrow four storied tenement nigh identical to all its long row of neighbours on this close lane in the down-at-heel suburb of Merry-the-boon – dank, ill-repaired and necessarily affordable.
Scarcely up the first flight of uneasy stairs when a bang and bustle of the front door opening in the vestibule where he had just been below gave Economous a happy jolt for anticipation of Asthetica’s return. Yet the arrival was too bustling and too loud to be her. Rather it was Mister Bidbrindle Gleens – violin maker, neighbour and one of Economous rivals for fair Asthetica’s regard – returning from his working shop in fine suburb of Risen Mole.
“Hullo hullo!” Mister Bidbrindle called with unusually elevated cheer the very instant he spied Economous peering at him from the landing atop the first flight. Though he must surely have reckoned that Economous was a competitor in wooing, the violin-maker always spoke with great civility to his younger opponent. Clearly itching with some great tale, Bidbrindle waved Economous to remain even as the would-be fabulist tried to turn and retreat at last to the bless-ed gloom of his garret.
With a silent sigh, Economous gave the older man respect and did as he was bidden.
“You would not credit what was granted to me to heal this week, sir,” Bidbrindle declared excitedly, perching himself between the second and forth step.
“I would if I could, sir,” Economous said, nodding a polite bow and – his tricorn off and wedged beneath his arm – touching his crown.
Needing scant encouragement, the violin-maker continued with but a breath. “I was strolling this very morn up Baker’s Lane to start my daily labours,” he said in the rehearsed manner of someone who has told certain information many times already that day, “when upon nearing my humble workshop I spied a pavillion and six – six horse, sir! – drawn up at the very door. The Signals know how often such fine fits come for that sleuthing fellow who occupies the entire top floor space above my own humble workshop. But today – today! – the fine carriage was for me, sir. Can you credit it!”
Economous shook his head dutifully.
“Out steps the personal servant of a body of the highest consequence – a body who I am undertaken with the solemnest of promises to always hold secret – to summon me away. No sooner was I aboard than we are hurtling to a location I am equally sworn to never divulge, where amongst great opulence, this body of consequence shows to me a viol passed to him from some obscure relative, saying it was in sore need of repair and that I – I! – was the only artisan he would trust such delicate work to. Oh, how my eyes poked from their seat when I beheld the instrument…” He paused in the gravity of imminent revelation.
“It was a Cordialis,” Bidbrindle declared with delighted solemnity. “A Cordialis!” he repeated when his listener’s only replied was a blank mein. “It is old as a still tuneful viol can get, m’boy! It is so old and so precious its neck and tailpiece are fashioned of black elder.”
At this Economous was final moved to genuine excitement.
Held to possess wondrous properties and highly prized by carpenters and habilists alike, black elder was so rare as to be almost mythic. The common soul on the street would scarce know what to make of the stuff – just some dark pretty wood – but to the connoisseur and the learned who had even an inkling of its manifold qualities it was highly prized as the rarest and the best of woods. Only the lumber of the even rarer almug-tree was held in greater esteem. Economous had seen some once – and only once in the hallowed vaults of Athingdon Athy where Master [……NAME……] had shown the anthenaeum’s single precious item – a small saltbox made from the stuff, a beautiful little item, Yet, what had most impressed him at the time was the rare wood’s spicy sweet perfume.
“Oh!” Mister Gleens went on in pompous satisfaction at this reaction in his listener, “if only I could show it to you, you would marvel, sir, marvel! But alas, its owner will never suffer to have such a precious heirloom leave the safety of their palatial halls. Well for me it is not this wood that needs mending – not that it should, black elder is always true – for there is nowhere I know to get more without recourse to deals with the black habilists and their dark partners. Be that as it is, what work does need to be done has had me sending to far away Turkmantine for the finest rosewood they po…”
The quiet thump of front door opening once more instantly captured Economous attention away and it was quickly transmuted to joy as he first heard the swish and soft step that were oh so sweetly familiar to him and then beheld the subject of his longing.
“Asthetica!” Mister Bidbindle proclaimed, springing with admirable alacrity in an older man from his step to the vestibule. “All the flowers of Arbustrum have flowered in one!
Before them was revealed a vision to render the desire for such paltry things as black elder or fine viols suddenly base and common.
Hair the raven-black of deepest coolest midnight, wide eyes grey like storm-tossed sky; face an ideal oval of pure marmoreal pallor; the rose-buds of her Hamlin-bow lips dented so perfectly in the middle and dimpled so prettily at the cheeks, often expressing gorgeous little “O’s” of wonder; lithe of limb and of form, her every action quiet and considered: this was Asthetica Grouse. Clad in a simple stomacher skirt of sombre grey to match her gleaming often solemn eyes, with a black bonnetbow holding back her equally raven tresses, Asthetica was dressed almost as drably as a servant, yet her radiance remained undiminished. For this epitome of beauty, this exemplar of femanine wonder, was also a member of those most modern of modern innovations: a dollymop – a girl-at-work – fetching and filing for an underclerk to a lesser secretary of a minor responsibility at Fribbles Determined Franchisements. What Fribbles Determined Franchisements actually did, Economous had never been able to fathom, but they certainly employed a great many young middling station women to help them do it. Flustered and dishevelled, to Economous she was a vision of Atopian Dido herself.
“Good evening, Mister Gleens,” she said, bobbing ever so slightly as she spoke with a fine address that told of the expensive day-school education her mother and long dead father had striven to afford her. “Good evening, Mister Musgrove.” She smiled at him with that smile he liked to imagine he never saw her give to another.
“Miss Grouse,” Economous returned, bowing low in his turn and wishing he could just seize her up in his arms.