Friday, May 31, 2013

the groundskeeper - 3. a wise child

by nanette nanao

illustrations by danny delacroix

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

click here to begin the groundskeeper

click here to begin the 14th princess

i considered myself a wise child, one who at least knew which side my bread was buttered on. and i felt, early on, that i had the measure of mademoiselle, my benefactress. i had no illusions as to my status - i was a pet, to be turned out of doors at a moment's notice, like a cat or dog or parrot.

in the early days of my ascension to the lofty position of pet, despite the comforts attending it (offset to some extent by occasional privations, to be sure) i often found myself wishing to be back in the kitchen under berthe's feet. i instinctively knew that berthe and charles, with their simple faith, would never think of casting me out on to the highway, whereas the capricious and absent minded mademoiselle might very well do just that.

it is difficult, if not impossible in one's later years to recall the passage of time as it filtered through the mind of a child - so it might have been months, or only a week or a few days, that i divined that mademoiselle did not need my company every minute of the day and that i was quite free to seek berthe's company in the kitchen, or charles's in the stable, almost any time i pleased. considering the matter as i pen these lines, it indeed seems more likely that it was a few days!

for a time then, all should have been well. it is easy enough now to look back and say that i was getting the best of two worlds, and that my four year old self should have been philosopher enough to realize it and be grateful for it. but gratitude is a poor conduit and a poorer barometer for dealing with our creaturely existence, and it was with the trepidations of an abandoned and hunted creature that i continued to greet each new day.

it pains me even now to say that i did not appreciate the kindness of charles and berthe, but what child is truly satisfied with the company of adults? naturally, it was with creatures closer to my own age and size that i sought companionship. as there were no other human children on the grounds of mademoiselle's residence, my first encounters with such were with the dog, balthazar, and the cat, marthe, who inhabited the kitchen, as well as some of the mice who at that time were all too able to avoid the elderly marthe's perfunctory attentions.

i found balthazar an aloof individual, polite enough but barely acknowledging my existence. he had an irritating habit of not answering your question at first, but then replying just before you were about to ask it again. he usually answered as briefly as possible, but on occasion at maddening length. marthe was friendlier and more forthcoming - when she was awake, which was not often.

the mice were chattier, but mostly about themselves and their own affairs, and were a poor source of information about the household - which was my own chief interest.

i will say that learning to talk to both the cat and the mice - to both sides of a deadly conflict, though this was little more than a polite convention due to marthe's age - was a most valuable skill which would do me great service on my journey in the wider world.

i should add that the spectre of death was constantly placed before my young consciousness, not only by the desultory warfare in the corners of the kitchen, but by the good berthe, in whose thoughts it was ever present. not so much as the end of existence but as the door to communion with the blessed saints, with whom she was on the most intimate terms.

like virtually all (in my experience) such good souls - who make up so much and so supremely loyal a portion of mother church's population - she believed in the existence of heaven but not of hell - a view, so far as i know, not promulgated by a single learned theologian, in the history of christendom.

where was i? ah, yes, with my animal friends. on being taken upstairs by mademoiselle, i found myself in the company of her other pets, her parrot plutarch (the least garrulous of the three), her pug aristide (a creature who seemed more cat than dog), and her cat charmian. it was these who were my first true companions, and from whom i received my first lessons.

charmian in particular took a fancy to me, who can say why - who, indeed, can fathom the motives of any living creature? - i have long since given up - and we spent long afternoons both gloomy and sunny - for it was perfect weather indeed that tempted mademoiselle out of doors - chatting away, much to the amusement of mademoiselle, who could not understand a sound we made, and who only occasionally bid me talk to her instead.

ah, mademoiselle, mademoiselle! where are you now? you might even be alive! you were, or are, only about twenty years older than myself - a gap that dwindles to nothingness as the road of life lengthens. often enough in my travels did my thoughts turn to you, and i entertained fleeting thoughts of making discreet enquiries about you. but cast them aside, for what possible reason would my carefully but delicately reconstructed self have for making them? and what would i discover? either that you had passed on, or were still "buried" in your countryside.

"buried"! in the countryside! what horror the young of the new age have for such a fate. but it was not so cruel in those days to avoid the attentions of the successive revolutions, was it, and you had the wit to do that, i grant you that. wit or luck? you ascribed it to luck, but i am no longer so sure. or sure of anything.

i am not making great progress here. these memoirs which i resolved to begin after my meeting with rudolf have not even progressed to the point of my first encounters with him. how complicated life is, even at its simplest! how difficult to unravel! how messy!

with these profound observations i again lay down my pen.

4. the green dress of lady dodsley

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