"next." victorine, the youngest girl, was next. she stayed in her seat. "go ahead and pick for me."
"very well." miss prue took a paper from each of the hats. "ridiculous." this got a big laugh all around. victorine blushed. "yes, " said miss prue, "that means you need only write the most ridiculous thing you can think of. and your author is - kafka. "
"that's not a bad pick," said dorine. "i wouldn't have minded getting it." victorine blushed again.
the awakening of a silly girl
by victorine de valois
illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas
special thanks to Prof. Dan Leo for his editing efforts
dora d----- was a young woman of a very compliant and easy-going nature, and when her aunt grunhilde informed her that she, dora, had been betrothed to a lieutenant h-----, from the province of m-------, a gentleman whose existence she had hitherto been unaware of, she not only assented without a murmur but was not so ill-bred as to inquire as to any qualities he might possess.
she went on sewing a motto into a handkerchief without missing a stitch. the handkerchief was very white, and she was inscribing in bright blue thread the motto "the brave rush to meet the future".
this and the other handkerchiefs she was inscribing would be distributed to the officers and men of the ------th hussars, which her uncle gustaf was commanding officer of. dora had become quite adept at sewing such mottoes into handkerchiefs, spent part of every day except sunday doing it, and enjoyed it as much as she could be said to enjoy anything.
"i wonder," dora said aloud after a while, "if my life will be any different when i am married."
"i am sure it will be," answered aunt grunhilde evenly. "in some small ways. you will have to take a larger share in directing the servants, for one thing. and you will have to learn to take a more decisive tone with them. "
"of course," dora replied absently.
"was there something else you had in mind?"
"i was wondering if i will still be embroidering these handkerchiefs when i am married."
"i do not see why not. your husband will not take up so much of your time as all that. i expect that he will be kept quite busy in his post as adjutant in your uncle's regiment." aunt grunhilde stared directly at dora. "as adjutant he will be kept very busy indeed with the preparations for the coming war."
"ah. then i expect i shall be embroidering even more handkerchiefs."
"oh? and why is that?"
"because some of the soldiers will be killed, and i imagine i will have to embroider new ones for those who take their places."
"what a morbid thought! " aunt grunhilde was shocked. "my dear, do not let your uncle hear you talking in such a manner, or your husband either, either before or after you are married."
"i am sorry, aunt, i did not mean any harm."
"do not speak in that manner again."
"i am sorry. i will not."
aunt grunhilde nodded, satisfied. she had always found dora to keep her word when promising not to do something.
dora continued to embroider and aunt grunhilde nodded off. presently they were joined by great-aunt delphine, who slept late, took long naps and was not very talkative. she was followed by hans, the obsequious and meddlesome butler. grunhilde snapped her eyes open at their approach, and hans handed her a card, which she glanced at and tossed onto the table in front of her.
"dora is to be married," grunhilde informed delphine.
"about time, i should think," delphine replied as she settled into her chair. and then, after a while, "is everything arranged?"
"i should certainly hope so."
"has she obtained a license?"
"yes, a marriage license."
"i am sure it has been taken care of. we do have people to arrange such things. i am sure the army will take care of it."
"she is not to be married by the army but by the civil authorities. the un-civil authorities, i call them. no, she has to go to the bureau herself and obtain one, as does the groom. and she has to pass a physical exam."
at this dora looked up for the first time since delphine had entered.
"nonsense," grunhilde insisted. "there was no such thing in my day. or yours."
"ah, but that was before the socialists brought the fatherland to its knees." despite her somnolent nature, delphine read the newspapers and took an interest in politics, perhaps more than was seemly for a woman.
dora almost never ventured to speak to her elders without being spoken to first, but she got up her courage to ask delphine, "please, aunt, what is this about a physical examination?"
delphine laughed. "oh, it is nothing. a mere formality. for a young woman of good family like yourself, a doctor will simply make a mark on a piece of paper and you will be done with it. then you take the paper to the marriage bureau in another part of the building and they give you a license. for a fee, of course, to line some socialist rascal's pocket."
"oh. and when must this be done?"
"well, my dear, i would do it as soon as possible and be done with it."
"why not? it is quite a nice day, a ride in the coach will put some color in your cheeks."
dora turned to aunt grunhilde, "will you come with me, aunt? i am sure i shall get lost if i go by myself."
"i am expected at the countess of g---------'s afternoon luncheon. it would never do, to disappoint the countess."
dora then asked delphine, "what of you, aunt?"
"oh dear, i don't feel nearly strong enough to go out. perhaps hans can go with you."
hans had been hovering discreetly in the background. "it is wednesday, madame. i have wednesday afternoons off."
"yes, of course" aunt grunhilde answered. "well, i do not see why she can not go by herself. with adelaide, of course. after all, she will be a real woman soon enough, not a silly little girl. what do you say?" she asked dora. "you can look at it as quite an adventure. "
"yes, aunt." dora was still absorbing the ominous words "a real woman ... not a silly little girl." "and will adelaide know the way?"
"adelaide could not find her way across the street," delphine told her. "but i am sure all the coachmen know the way. it is the main administrative building, just past the imperial palace. and if you can not find the correct entrance, i am sure some kind stranger will assist you."
"oh," replied dora, "and are the streets filled with kind strangers?"
"i should hope so. the socialists have not brought us so low as that yet. this is not paris or rome, where the most insolent blackguards are allowed the run of the streets." seeing dora's slightly alarmed expression, delphine added, "i am sure anyone you encounter will be polite, at least, to a young woman of good family. and of course once you get inside the building everyone will be more than polite."
"well then," said grunhilde. "that is settled. shall we have luncheon?"
"i thought you were lunching at the countess of g--------'s," delphine observed.
"the countess provides agreeable conversation and a brisk game of whist. sustenance is not the first law of her land."
"she does not have the strongest constitution herself, and is inclined to ascribe her maladies to her guests."
"yes, i feel for her. we can not all have the appetites of drayhorses."
dora's mind drifted away from the aunts' conversation. she looked out the window. it was a beautiful day.
i accepted my bag of strawberries from the insolent master of the roadside fruit stand, and nodded adieu to costermayne.
but costermayne was not to be nodded adieu to. the fellow actually grabbed my arm to prevent me from leaving him.
"to start life anew," he repeated in his most offensive tone. "a curious expression, is it not? why, asks the philosopher, would one wish to to start life anew? would not one's infinite fund of joyous and happy memories be wiped out at one swipe? who would wish for that, eh?"
"a most fascinating topic for discussion," i responded with as much iciness as i could muster. "for another time, perhaps." but the brute persisted in leeching himself to me.
"another time? what other time? what other time is there?" he fixed my eyes with his baleful blue ones. "what is time? what can time be to you, muggles, if you are spending it in here at a fruit stand by the side of the road, here in county k---------, in the year of our lord 1------, under an uncharacteristically blue sky, as a gentle breeze wafts from the bay? eh?"
i managed to pull my arm from his fat be-ringed hand, but he slyly gripped it again.
"and what it is it you, costermayne," i cried, " if i wish to buy my strawberries here, or if i travel to paris or istanbul to buy them? would you kindly let go of my arm?"
i glanced up, and fenwick had now become a mere spot in the distance. costermayne did not follow my gaze, but continued to look directly at me. "let go of your arm? and forego the fine feel of this excellent cloth - tell me, muggs, wherever did you purchase this splendid garment? not here in county k--------? surely on your world travels? you are a world traveler, are you not? looked in ladies' windows on seven continents, eh? ha ha ha ha ha! how high are the ladies' windows in st petersburg, eh? i have often wondered."
i pulled myself free again, and, slipping my bag of strawberries under one arm, made fair to brandish my walking stick in costermayne's face with the other.
his eyes widened in mock astonishment - a habit i remembered only too well from our days at mr muldoon's school. "muggs, muggs, i had thought you might have learned some semblance of civilized behavior since last i saw you." he shook his head. "but i see you are still the same pallid and uncomprehending wretch you were in first form."
"i am no longer in the first form."
"ah! only too true. but what jolly times we had, eh?"
"jolly for you, perhaps. now if you will excuse me." and i strode away from the stand and from costermayne, with a will. as i have explained previously i consider myself no mean pedestrian, capable of putting one foot in front of the other with the best of them. fenwick was, barely, still in my sights, and though i pumped my legs manfully i seemed to gain no ground on him. one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other - i could not fault my technique. fenwick, it appeared, was every bit my equal when it came to putting face to the wind, and i felt a twinge of despair at my inability to close the distance between us. suddenly i remembered the bag of strawberries under my arm. perhaps the effort of holding it to my side was interfering with the purity of my technique, and lessening, even if ever so slightly, my stride? it was indeed something to ponder, and i pondered mightily. i should say that once i get hold of an idea i do not abandon it lightly, not at all.
i see it through, no matter what the cost or time (and i have almost no cost but time). and as i cogitated, without i should add, slackening my pace or altering my technique - one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other - very good, i thought, no problem here. and then i was struck suddenly by another thought - the reason i had purchased the bag of strawberries! not for the strawberries, not for the accursed strawberries at all, but for the bag! the bag which i was going to put over my head! for my disguise, yes!
my disguise in the event fenwick should turn around and discover me following him. something at this point he showed no inclination of doing in any case - no, he was proving himself as devoted as myself to the old school of proceeding - looking neither to the right nor the left, neither to the left nor the right, one foot in the front of the other, as nature intended, steady as the sun climbing in the sky in the morning, one foot, then the other, showing faultless technique, i had to admit.
i felt the first stirrings of despair. what folly! if it had not been for the whole ill-advised affair of the disguise - i should have him easily in my sights, quite in my sights, yes, in my sights fat as a duck cruising over a pond, in my sights...
in my blind despair i had quite forgotten why i was following fenwick in the first place. why was i following fenwick? why indeed? what was fenwick to me, or i to him? what was fenwick in the grand scheme of things? what was i?
what was anybody? was there a grand scheme, or any scheme? the sky above seemed to laugh at me, but still i kept on, keeping final despair at bay, one foot, then the other, one foot, then the other...
and then - fenwick slowed down! his hands dropped to his side and he began to walk, not like a man with a mission, but like a bankers clerk out strolling beside a river on his lunch break. but might he turn round?
i moved into the slight shade of some trees on the side of the road - a road, i should add, which showed no sign of either ending or bending, no, a straight straight road as far as the eye could see - and said to myself ( like many of those of us who walk in darkness under a dark cloud, i frequently - not incessantly, but frequently - talk aloud to myself, particularly in moments of deepest despond) - i said, "perhaps one of these blasted strawberries will slake my thirst, as i have already paid for them".
and i took a strawberry out of the bag, barely slackening my pace, as i have learned in long hours of vigorous pedestrianship to do many things while keeping up my pace, or virtually keeping up my pace. i added, as an afterthought, as i lifted the berry to the general vicinity of my mouth, "i believe they are quite abundant in vitamin c, vitamin c yes."
and a voice behind me said, "yes, they are indeed a source of vitamin c, but not nearly as good as others not so well known, except to the initiated."
i turned, totally gobsmacked. who but costermayne! he had followed me, had, i supposed, been right behind me the whole way.
behind me the whole way as i put one foot in front of the other, totally concentrating on the task at hand, looking neither to the right nor left let alone behind me, as nature intended. and he had been behind me the whole time! there must have been a lesson there, but i was in no mood to learn it. and he showed no signs of the least exertion himself, but was lounging along as louche as could be, with his thumbs in his lapels.
"the guava, old boy, the kiwi , the humble brussel sprout, the exotic acerola berry - all are superior repositories of vitamin c. but if you really want a high concentration of vitamin c, you must go further afield, and find the baobab plant - or, best of all, the by no means easily obtained camu camu."
i managed to find my voice, not, i must admit, without losing my rhythm and faltering in my pace. "and did you really follow me out here to discuss the sources of vitamin c?"
"of course not," he replied easily. " i am here for the same reason you are - to follow the worthy colonel fenwick. look - he has taken his breather , and quickened his march again. let us do likewise. come, old fellow, you will have to do better. it has been all i could do to avoid treading on your heels. quickly, now - quickly. forrrr-ward - march!"