Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Newhouse Leaves Home Part 4

Anyroad, in those long-lost days I was an innocent.  I attended upon the sermons when we went to temple, I sang in the choir, I even had some dream of becoming a priest myself.  On that chilly Winter Sacrifice eve, I stood in the midst of the gathered hole-biters great and small and sang the Aamutähden:

First light, long-needed light!
Star that startles darkness!
Come carry away our weal and woe!
Star that startles darkness!

Warbling along, I found myself distracted by a pair of pairs of sultry, dark eyes and nearly skipped a verse.  The Claretton twins, Ivy and Rose, were staring at me in a way I was quite unused to; appraising me the way patrons at the tavern appraised my mother and her co-workers.  It was quite enough to throw me off my stride and my performance was less impressive than I had hoped.

There was polite applause – some of it was genuinely enthusiastic, but I fear that was primarily from my family – and I walked up to where old Master G_____ sat in that great, overstuffed, human-sized chair he loved to lounge in.  He was dressed as the Old Hunter in a false beard and fur cape, tinsel icicles hanging from the three corners of his hat, with a pile of presents on the end table beside him.  Most of these were the hand-me-downs from his extensive family – waistcoats and belt buckles, teapots and dishes – but a few were minor treasures he would give as new to valued tenants and servants.  As I approached him, I saw disregard in his eyes and quailed.

He was not pleased with my unremarkable performance, I could tell.  I had certainly hoped to impress him more, to perhaps get his support in entering the clergy, but instead he scowled at me.  There was a beautiful holybook sitting on the table; bound in heavy leather with gilt letters and page-edges, it must have cost as much as the rest of the presents combined.  His spindly fingers traced the cover as I approached…

And then he shoved a waistcoat into my waiting hands.

I was mortified.  I thanked him and hared off to find a place to cry, the tears already starting from my eyes.  I was more embarrassed than I had ever been in my life, my hopes of preferment crushed.  I scrambled through the crowd and finally found a dark corner deep in the heart of the hill.

“Damn me, boy,” drawled a voice I didn’t know.  “I think you came off very well.”

I looked up.  He was a young hole-biter, not more than a decade my senior and certainly not old enough to call me “boy.”  He was dressed very well in a silver-trimmed coat, embroidered waistcoat, and breeches with silver buckles and buttons at the knee.  His hair was fashionably clubbed and powdered in the elfin fashion.  I knew him to be Dashwood Claretton even though we had never spoken.

“Mr. Claretton, I am humbled but must disagree.  My voice faltered in several places and I mispronounced…” I began to say, but he cut me off with a wry laugh.

“Not the singing – that was atrocious – I meant the gift!”  He pointed toward the waistcoat I was busy wringing like a dishrag.  “Yoink!” he laughed and snatched it out of my hands.  He straightened it out and stepped into the light emanating from the hallway.  “Lords above, you foolish fellow!  You’ll probably never own a finer piece of clothing.”

I took a closer look.  He was right that it was a fine waistcoat – it was made of jaunty blue cotton satin with large silver buttons and a subtle embroidered motif of stag’s heads along the collar and buttonholes – but that was small comfort to me.  The holybook had represented the promise of advancement, of patronage.  The waistcoat was just another cast-off.

“Was it yours, Mr. Claretton?” I asked.  I had an uncharitable suspicion that he wanted it back.

“Hmm?  Yes, it was, but it’s a couple of years out of fashion.”  He tossed it back to me.  “Put it on.”

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