Read Part One here
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Calamus Quill & Lucy (Part2)
The study to which he had referred turned out to be a small, but adequate library. Three walls were lined, to varying degrees, with shelves of books. The fourth, opposite the door through which we entered, was adorned with a lovely mantled fireplace above which a massive mirror reflected the book lined shelves making the room appear larger than it actually was. Pairs of double French doors flanked the fireplace, leading out to what looked to be an unkempt rose garden.
In the middle of the doorway wall, some few feet from the shelves of books, was set a small desk with a brown leather, winged back chair for the writer, and a smaller side chair at one end to accommodate visitors. With the same disorder as the nursery, the desk was piled high with papers and books. Settled in front of the fireplace was an appealing, if somewhat battered, divan over which hung a large, porcelain gas lamp. The room was at once inviting in spite of its shabby appearance, the perfect spot for 4:00 tea and an afternoon of reading.
“Perhaps we should begin again,” said the man. Turning to me, he dropped the cap and apron absently on the desk where they fluttered the stack of papers next to them. I held my breath expecting the pile to go wafting about the room, but in the end it righted itself, and all was saved from a larger muddle. “Let me introduce myself,” said he. “I am Phineas MacAllister. Professor Phineas MacAllister.” And he held out his hand.
It did not seem that he intended to elaborate on what he was a professor of, and I felt it would be impolite to pry, so I merely accepted his hand and tipped my head in acknowledgment. “I am Lucinda Brightmore,” I responded, “Though everyone calls me Lucy.”
“Very good! Veeeeery good, Lucinda Brightmore!” he replied, tugging my hand up and down as zealously as if priming a water pump.
“Please, just Lucy,” I reiterated. I untangled my fingers from his energetic grasp, then laced them together primly in front of me.
“Yes, yes! Lucy! Well, Lucy, you’ve come just in the nick of time! I was beginning to wonder what to do with the girls while I am shut up here in my study FINALLY writing my book. Mrs. Adlard cannot be responsible for them, you know. She has the house to run, cooking to see to, the garden to tend, the marketing, and, oh, so many other things. And the children can hardly be left to run the house and the countryside like some wild little animals, can they? That is, after all, the whole point of my book, that animals are NOT really wild, that they can, indeed, be very social and conversant! So that would be a bit unseemly, would it not? Why what would people say? No one would take me seriously! No, no. That just would not do, now, would it?”
Though the Professor’s words poured forth like a cheerfully babbling brook, his expression was one of the gravest concern, his voice weighty, serious.
“No, most assuredly not,” I agreed in all earnestness. “But, again, I must ask, sir…”
“Sir? No, no! That will not do, either! Professor! Please, just call me Professor. Everyone else does. Even my dear wife,” he said, his voice dropping to a worshipful whisper, “God bless her soul, always referred to me as Professor.”
Well that answered at least one curiosity of mine. I now knew their father had been the one arranging the girls’ hair. But as to the rest of his revelation, I was quite at a loss as to how to respond.
“I am very sorry for your bereavement,” I finally began, only to be interrupted yet again.
“No worries, no worries! It’s quite alright.” A sad smile crinkled the corners of his blue eyes. “It is not a recent passing.” He paused for a moment as if deciding whether the story bore repeating just now. Apparently he felt it did. “My wife, Isabella, died when the twins were born.” An eyebrow wiggled and rose as if he had just thought of something. “You did notice they were twins, did you not?”
“Yes, Professor, one could not HELP but notice, they are so very much alike. But, Professor, I need to know how I came to be in your home, and huddled inside a tent in your daughters’ nursery.”
But, lost in remembering now, the Professor’s eyes had taken on an unfocused, faraway look. “She was so excited to be with child after so many years. She was hoping and praying for a little girl, you see,” he said quietly.
His eyes bored deeply into mine as if it were the most important thing in the world that I understand. I remained quiet.
“She had picked out a girl’s name you see. Would give no thought to that of a boy child. She was to be Sophie Grace! The matter was quite settled.” He chuckled quietly at the thought.
I merely nodded and waited for him to go on.
“When Sophie Grace was born, the look on Isabella’s face was angelic! At last she had her darling little girl with the most amazing mass of curly, reddish hair matted to her head!” He paused, a sense of wonder echoing through the memories. “Then, quite suddenly, they were rushing me out of the room. The next thing I knew there was a baby’s cry . . . but different, somehow, than the first. It was then that I realized she must have birthed twins! And just as my joy appeared to be doubled, there was a terrible uproar by the midwife, and then . . . and then . . . this dreadful silence. Everyone was silent.” A shadow of fresh grief played across his face, his eyes misted with old tears.
Oh dear, thought I, this is hardly something one should be repeating to a total stranger. But in the telling of it, he actually seemed to have forgotten that I was even there.
“The strain was too much for her in the end, they said. I will always wonder if she even got to see Tophie Grace.”
Startled, I asked, “Tophie?” My goodness, I thought, what a bizarre name!
“Yes. Bella loved the name Sophie Grace so much, I thought it only fitting that the second girl child should be named as close to the first as possible. So I named her after my wife’s favorite candy.”
“Tophie?’ I repeated. “Tophie…” Then suddenly I understood. “Oh!” said I, “I believe, Professor, that you mean toffee!”
“Toffee? Toffee? Is THAT how you say it?” He looked positively stricken. “My, my! I have a made a muddle out of THAT then, have I not?” He blushed, his brow wrinkling in embarrassment. “Well, there’s nothing for it, I suppose. It’s too late to put it to rights now. The girl has been Tophie for these past four years.”
“I suppose so,” I agreed gently. But I would not be put off any longer. I needed an answer to my question. Taking advantage of the seemingly rare moment of silence, I cleared my throat and proceeded. “Professor, you have my heartfelt condolences for how difficult your life must have been raising your dear daughters without your beloved wife, but I really MUST insist that you tell me HOW I came to be here, and WHY.”
Puzzled, the Professor scratched his head, tipping it sideways as he did so, reminding me very much of an old hoot owl. “Why, it’s just as I told you,” said he. “You are the answer to my prayer. I do not KNOW how you came to be here. I only know that I asked the good Lord for help with my children, and here you are! Who am I to question the means by which the Almighty works his will?”
My mind was in a fuddle. “But, Professor . . .”
Suddenly there was a knock on the study door.
“Come, come!” said he.
A somewhat aged woman nearly as wide as the door frame, bustled into the room. Her blue cotton shift was covered with a white linen apron like the one lying on the desk. It, in turn, was covered with Lord knew what. Her graying hair was pinned into a neat little bun and stuck discreetly under her frilled cap. Her eyes, that nearly closed when she smiled, twinkled with good humor, while her smile, having little room beneath her ample cheeks, was genuine and welcoming.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Professor, but the girls told me to set another plate for breakfast.” She looked me up and down then smiled with apparent approval. “I do apologize fer not hearin’ the front bell. I was out in the kitchen garden. Is this the new nanny, then?”
“Yes, indeed,” the Professor replied, inclining his head toward me, “and she couldn’t have come at a better time! This is Miss Bright . . .” He stopped, looked at me, and corrected himself. “This is Miss Lucy, the new nanny!”
“Professor!” I objected rather loudly, “I am NOT a nanny!” But neither person paid my outburst the slightest attention.
“I am Mrs. Adlard,” said the woman, proffering her hand. “I KNOW you’re going to love it here! I’ll go set that extra place straight away. Why you must be starving by now!”
By now I was TOTALLY at a loss, is what I was, and my temper was getting the best of me. “Professor, REALLY! This is quite unacceptable!”
But without so much as by your leave, he was out the door hurrying after Mrs. Adlard!