14. All God and Gophers

When they wake the following morning, Inglorion makes them a breakfast of fruit and goat cheese, and dresses Rosalie in the best of her three dresses for the trip into town. He has to put her shoes on numerous times because she keeps removing and throwing them across the room, followed by her balled-up socks. Inglorion sings her a little song, “Put your shoes on Lucy / don’t you know you’re in the city / Not home?” and reapplies them until they stay on.

Rosalie is a good and focused walker, so they make the trip through town in excellent time. Inglorion points out the various sights to her, though she doesn’t seem to be attending. It is curious how little interest she shows in people. She may notice a woman who is wearing a particularly extravagant hat, or a man with a flashy tie-pin, but she’s more likely to become absorbed in a bit of iron railing, a leaf, the texture of the cobblestones underfoot.

They reach the Shelawn townhome, which overlooks a quiet, residential square. He leads them through a side-gate, through the grounds, to the gardener’s cottage in the very back. It feels strange to avoid the main house, where his half-brother Marcus lives with his wife Penelope, but a meeting with them could only be awkward, he feels. Marcus is very starched-up, and Penelope has the excessive propriety of a woman who married above her station. Neither of them could be expected to take pleasure in his bastard Gypsy daughter.

It’s early enough that Collatinus is still tending his own livestock — cleaning out the henhouse, collecting eggs. Rosalee is fond of chickens, so Inglorion leads her over to meet their owner only with difficulty.

Collatinus spots Inglorion, nods to him and wishes him a good morning. “You’re out early.”

“Yes. I’ve brought you a visitor. Rosalee, this is Collatinus Octavius. Collatinus, my daughter Rosalee.”

They both look down at Rosalee. Inglorion is holding her hand firmly, but she’s bobbing around like a balloon on a string, threatening to break loose. Right now she’s bent on examining a particularly fine hen who’s settled in a laying box just above Rosalee’s eye level.

“Hello, Rosalee,” says Collatinus. “I’ll be done here in a moment, and the we can visit properly.”

“We can help with the chickens,” says Inglorion. “Have you fed and watered them?”

“Not yet. Help yourselves.”

Inglorion tugs Rosalee away. “Come on, Rosalee. Let’s draw water for all the chickens.”

“I’ve installed a pump,” Collatinus calls after them. 

Inglorion finds it, fills the chickens’ water stand. Collatinus has already given them kitchen scraps, but Inglorion gives Rosalee a couple of handfuls of cracked corn, and she chortles as she scatters it for them, and they scramble at her feet. They’re a small, tame flock, and once they’ve settled into pecking and scratching under the trees, she’s able to pet and examine them: Five narrow, flighty little birds, two in their prime laying years, and three older ladies. Collatinus emerges from the chicken coop carrying a bucket of droppings and says, “Did you see I’m experimenting with quail? They’re good eating, though tiny.”

“I saw you had a second coop set up.” Inglorion peers through the chicken wire. The quail are charming, like animated dust bunnies, in constant motion. “The hawks must love them.”

“Oh, yeah. And the barn cats and raccoons, too. They’re sprightly, and smart for their size, but they’d be gone in an hour if I free-ranged them. It’s bad enough as it is — I lost a half-dozen just last week to an enterprising raccoon. Can you believe that fucker pulled up one corner of the chicken wire and then just waited for the quail to pop out one by one?”

“It didn’t get any chickens?”

“No. The quail are better sport. I’d almost keep them just to entertain the predators.” Inglorion follows him to the pump, where he washes up. Collatinus adds, “If you wait here, I’ll bring chairs out. Have you eaten?”

“Oh, yes.”

“I’ll make some coffee, then. I’ve got a few moments before I have to start work. I would have made lemonade for her if I’d known you were coming.” And so Inglorion and Collatinus sit just outside the cottage while Rosalee watches the quail and tries to lure them over to the chicken wire.

“She’s a lovely child,” says Collatinus.

“Isn’t she? Her mother is a Gypsy in the local tribe.” Inglorion and Collatinus both watch her for a moment. She’s preoccupied with the quail, and doesn’t look up at either of them. Presently Inglorion says, “I think you can imagine why I brought her. I think she’s like I was as a child. She has nothing to do with other children — ignores them entirely. Her mother is concerned. People notice. At least, the Gypsies do.”

As they watch, Rosalee manages to engage the quails’ attention with some greens she’s picked. She extends them through the chicken wire, and they dart forward, nip off leaves, dart back.

“Her manner is very like yours was,” Collatinus says. “The way she ignores me entirely. She’ll check in with you occasionally? Once she’s done with the quail, or if she gets hungry?”

“Yes. She’s very self-amusing, but between tasks she’ll come over to snuggle me. If she thinks I’m not busy she might try to get me to sing to her or play a game. She can tell when I’m working, though she’ll ignore that if she feels very strongly about the game, or, you know, if she needs me to hold the other end of a string, or to get something down for her.”

“But strangers?”

“Like you see. She ignores them entirely. And to her, everyone except me and her mother is a stranger. She just doesn’t take to people. I’ve never seen her approach one of the other Gypsies for any reason.”

“How is she with her mother?”

Inglorion considers. “A bit more fretful, I think. Alexandra expects more of her. Takes her visiting, feeds her things she doesn’t like, tries to make her wear uncomfortable clothing. I wouldn’t say this to Alexandra, but there are things she doesn’t notice, or ignores. They fought for months over a single dress. It had a lace collar, and Rosalee couldn’t bear it. Every time Alexandra put her in it, Rosalee would take off the dress or tear at the collar. She wouldn’t rest — started fighting it the instant Alexandra got her dressed.”

“You wouldn’t do that?”

“What, dress her in lace? Of course not. Lace is horrible. I can’t bear that shit, and I don’t see why she should. It’s like a hair shirt.” He grins at Collatinus. “You can see the problem. Her mother thinks I spoil her.”

“More coffee?”

“Sure.”

Collatinus takes their cups in, reemerges with black coffee. “I’m out of cream until the goat decides to get back in the milk business.” He eyes the small, gray goat, which is gnawing a piece of wood she’s found. She returns his look with a malicious glare. He hands the mug to Inglorion, asks, “Why did you bring her to see me?”

“Like I say, her mother’s worried. Gypsies are very social. It bothers her, the way Rosalee is. I’ve told her about how I was, but I remember so little. I don’t know for sure what I was like, or how it appeared to to others. I thought it might ease her mind if she knew that Rosalee’s like I was — just slow to talk.”

“You were a lot more than just slow to talk.”

“I know.”

Collatinus sighs. “I wish I knew more. I’m a bachelor, and hardly an expert in child-rearing.”

“Gypsies don’t hold with doctors and surgeons and experts. If someone is born with a club foot, they just walk with a limp. To them, Rosalee is this weird little elf girl: Stubborn, aloof.” He grins. “They don’t know about the Drow part.”

“Does she get headaches?”

“No. I don’t think she minds the sun like I did, and when it’s dark I have to lead her around, just like any human child.”

“She seems very bright — the way she figures out the quails’ behavior, gets them to come to her.”

And it’s true that by now, Rosalee has discovered small murmuring noises that attract the quail, and she’s gathered the entire flock to one side of the coop. It’s almost as if they’ve assembled to hear a speech. There’s some jostling for position among them, but they’re no longer pursuing individual, apparently random vectors around the coop.

“Was I like that?”

“Lord, yes. You built all the snail traps — watched them, figured out how to lure them and trap them. You spent weeks just on that. And the gophers! You hated killing them, so you kept trying to figure out a way to trap and release them.”

“I’d forgotten the gophers!” Inglorion exclaims. “That was a rich saga — a whole era of my life! I was trying to develop a tagging system to see if individuals returned after I released them in different parts of town. I never found a satisfactory tagging method. Bits of paint or dye in their fur, shaving patterns on them. Collars were obviously a non-starter. Little fuckers. Eventually I realized that they bred quickly and were interchangeable.”

“I still use all those traps.”

“If I’d had a budget and research assistants, I could have figured out the best system for live-trapping them.” Inglorion shakes his head. “It still bothers me to just kill them and toss their bodies. If live-trapping didn’t work, I could have developed a series of delicious gopher-based entrees, or a cost-effective way of making children’s clothing from their pelts. Or we could have raised snakes, although then you’d have to find a purpose for the snakes. Perhaps the exotic pet trade.” Inglorion breaks off. Collatinus is regarding him with a fascinated eye. “What?”

Finally the old man says, “You really are an original, Inglorion.”

“Oh, I haven’t changed much,” says Inglorion cheerfully. “I can talk. That’s the main difference.” He pauses, contemplates his daughter, who has moved on from the quail and appears to be examining the chickens for lice. “I think she understands what I say to her, in Common or Elvish. She answers in her own way — lets me know her wishes. And she can sing words perfectly clearly.”

“You started talking quite suddenly, in complete sentences. It felt like you knew language, you just didn’t…” he furrows his brow. “You didn’t get the part about who you would talk to and why. A regular child might ask questions about snails or gophers, but you were determined to figure things out for yourself. It would never occur to you to ask.”

“What did I talk about?”

“Things that interested you. Gophers and snails probably figured prominently in your conversation until I taught you to shoot.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Yeah. And then once we were shooting and sparring, you were done with gophers. They were old news. It was archery and swordsmanship and the Bringer of Light until you discovered girls.”

Inglorion grimaces. “Please tell me I didn’t strategize out loud about how to live-trap girls.”

“You were up at the big house by then, so I can’t say. I do think they were just another kind of gopher for you.”

He wrinkles his nose, considers, then says candidly, “I’m sure that’s true. Though in my defense, I feel like girls discovered me first. I remember being packed off to the big house, fitted for livery. I was a very innocent creature, you know, all God and gophers, and there I was, delivering love notes to loose widows and taking packages to the laundry, and serving Champagne at dinner. It was a regular Rake’s Progress, ending with me bumming cigarettes to smoke in the alley and getting into fistfights over parlor maids.” He cocks his head. “I’ve meant to ask you. I always thought it was odd that I ended up a footman. Whose idea was that?”

Collatinus coughs. “Mine, actually.”

Inglorion laughs. “What were you thinking? To me, bringing a bastard into the house to wait on the family isn’t an obvious choice. And why on earth did they agree to it?”

“You really were all God and gophers, and it seemed like a shame. You were obviously bright. You read anything you could find, and learned algebra and geometry easily. You were a crack shot and handy with any weapon you picked up. I didn’t have much more to teach you. I thought you would learn some manners, and figure out that there was a broader world out there. That part worked. I don’t know why they permitted it. I mentioned something casually to the housekeeper, and in a week or so the estate manager came over and said that you should pack up and move over.” He shrugs. “Quality ways. Who knows?”

“I’m just imagining a scenario where they got me over there, buttoned me into livery, pushed me into a receiving line. Once I was in the same room with that asshole and they did a side-by-side comparison someone probably thought, ‘Oh, crap. That’s awkward.’ But the party line was always that there was no resemblance. ‘Nope. That one is large, blond and violet-eyed. This one over here is runty and silver-eyed. Totally different thing.’ Poor Lavinia. It must have really taxed her powers of well-bred ignorance.”

They’re silent for a moment. Presently, Rosalee skips over and nestles up against Inglorion’s side. He kisses the top of her head. “Hey, baby doll.” 

“Does she let you know what she wants?”

“Oh, yeah. Mostly with gestures. So, if she wants to play a game, she’ll take my hand and put a token in it and walk me through how she thinks I should play.”

Collatinus nods. “You did that, too. As soon as you started talking, I made a rule that you had to ask for things. You couldn’t just grab me and drag me around, and I wouldn’t stand there guessing.”

“That makes sense. In fact, it might motivate her to start talking.” He sighs. “I adore her, and I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with her. She’s usually peaceful and happy, and I never was.”

“How often do you see her?”

“Every two weeks, for three days. I’m settled in Amakir by necessity, but I don’t care to bring her over there.”

“Why not?” Inglorion hesitates. “You don’t have to tell me. And it’s probably better for her to be fixed in one place.” After a time Collatinus asks, “She’s good with livestock? Chickens, goats?”

“Very much. Animals of all kinds, plants.”

“Would her mother be open to her spending time here, in the garden? Like you did?”

“Possibly. Though we’ve agreed she’s to be raised as a Gypsy. Would you be willing to do that?”

“I think I would like it. She could help me out. Not in the Shelawn gardens, but with my garden and livestock. Do Marcus and Penelope know about her?”

“No.”

“Do you plan to tell them?”

“I’ll have to eventually. Sieia, too. It’s all very awkward.”

“You should have thought of that sooner. A Gypsy, huh?”

“Oh, fuck you,” says Inglorion with asperity. “I know it’s not to my credit. You know how humans are. If you look at them sideways they conceive.”

“A sideways glance? I didn’t know.”

“It might have been more than a glance,” Inglorion concedes. He looks down at Rosalee, and an expression of delight suffuses his face. “I do love her, you know. Like with Sieia. I appreciate the offer. I’m surprised you’d want to take on another Shelawn by-blow.”

“It’s easier than producing my own. I’m hardly a devil with the ladies. I can’t be bothered with all that.”

“Be careful what you wish for. Marcus is a confirmed slow-top, but doesn’t he have a son? What’s his name?”

“Aramil. I don’t think women are his vice.”

Inglorion adopts an expression of spurious sympathy. “What, then? Blue ruin? Turf and table? Chasing the dragon?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, dear. Blood will tell, even with all that Ceralac prissiness and bad taste. Anyway, my point holds. Tereus only dabbled in pussy, and yet here I stand.” He leans over, ruffles Rosalee’s curls. “Are you ready to go, honey?” She presses her face against his side. “You’re a bit tired and fussy, huh? I’ll bring you back another time, honey, and you can get to know the quail better.”

One thought on “14. All God and Gophers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s