* * * * *
With a petulant stomp of my foot, I cried angrily to no one in particular, “This is absurd! I can not believe it!” Imagine my surprise, then, to hear:
“Oh, believe it. He is quite scattered, you know.”
Startled at the sound of a somewhat . . . pardon me, but I can only say “honky”. . . voice behind me, I turned toward one of the French doors that now stood open. Standing there, as politely as you please, and as if he had every right to be there, was a large gander. There was no mistaking it for a goose, for it wore a smart, dark blue waist coat over a light brown silk, long sleeved shirt. A gold chain hung gracefully from one button hole, and draped itself perfectly into his vest pocket. One could only assume a watch was to be found at the end.
“Excuse me?” said I, my mouth hanging open in what must have been a most unladylike manner.
“No need for excusing,” said the gander. “I was only saying that the Professor is just a little bit lost. Has been ever since the passing of his wife.”
I felt behind me for the little chair, then sat down with a thump.
“It’s alright, my dear. I don’t expect you’ve ever seen any talking geese. Or squirrels or rabbits, or cats or dogs, for that matter.”
When I still did not, indeed could not answer, he introduced himself just as amiably as you please.
“Calamus Quill at your service.” He bowed a neat little bow from the waist . . . if ganders can be said to have waists. “Perhaps I can be of some assistance?”
Still unable to make sense of what I was seeing, my mind barely registered the little buzz close to my ear.
“Oh, and do close your mouth, my dear. The flies hanging around the fruit trees outside always manage to find their way inside. Nasty little blighters, they are. Mooches, taking advantage by dining on any old thing lying about. I hardly associate with their kind, and we certainly wouldn’t want you swallowing any, now would we, young lady?”
I could feel the warm glow of embarrassment color my cheeks as I shut my mouth and swatted at the fly circling my head.
“Ahem,” he said, as my stupor continued unabated. “I have just introduced myself. It is customary, is it not, for you to do likewise…” He paused for a moment as if considering my lack of etiquette. “Has the professor even taken the time to interview you? I mean, a nanny MUST have impeccable credentials and manners if she is to teach children.”
Nanny! There was that abhorrent word again, and it had a decided affect on my bewilderment. At last the daze began to lessen and I rose and introduced myself, “I am Lucinda Brightmore,” said I, extending my hand, though expecting what gesture in return, I did not know. To my surprise, the gander lifted his right wing and placed the end of the feathers in my hand just as prettily and graciously as you please!
“Delighted to meet you, Lucinda,” he replied. “Do you go by Lucy, perchance?” He smiled at my nod. “Let’s have a look see, then, shall we?” He reached his feathered wing inside his waistcoat and produced a pair of reading glasses which he settled precariously on the bridge of his beak. “Now then,” he continued, peering over the tops of them, “have you brought any references?”
“References?” I asked, incredulously. Then, taking a breath to regain my composure, I replied, “Mr. Quill,” as calmly and respectfully as one could when speaking with a gander, “I beg your forbearance for just a moment. There seems to be some mistake here. Though everyone assumes I am a nanny, I can assure you that I simply am not.” Even the word sat distastefully on my tongue.
“Oh dear,” he began, but as I was quite tired of interruptions, I hurried on with what I was saying.
“I do not KNOW how I ended up here,” said I. “This morning, much to my consternation, I awoke in a hand made tent in the nursery. And even though it was certainly a lovely, well crafted tent, it is NOT at all where I SHOULD, or WISH to be! And,” said I, stealing another quick breath, “I would very MUCH like to LEAVE!”
“Oh dear,” repeated the big, white foul, “seems you’ve made up your mind already then.”
“Made up my mind to what?” asked I in some confusion.
“To not be the nanny, of course,” he answered, looking at me as if my brains were somewhat addled. “It would only be for a short time, you know, until the professor finishes his book.”
I absolutely could NOT bear this charade a moment longer. So without another word, and without my evening coat, I might add, I squared my shoulders, tightened my fists into squeezy little balls at my side, and marched directly through the French doors into the garden meaning to make my escape from this asylum as quickly as possible! But I did NOT count on the garden being encircled by a shoulder-high stone wall, nor being situated on the very tip top of a hill! I stared in surprise at the patch work quilt valley that spread out below me. Farms dotted the corners of neatly planted fields of corn, potatoes, or other crops, and narrow dirt roads ran through the countryside like ribbons entwined through a young girl’s braids. Obviously there was no way out from here.
“They never stay, you know.”
“Who never stays?” I demanded, turning back to the gander who had followed me into the garden, his wings folded thoughtfully behind his back.
“The other nannys.”
Flustered, I balled my hands on my hips. “Why ever not?” I asked, without really meaning to.
His flat, webbed feet slapped quietly on the stone garden path as he came to stand at my side. “Some of them didn’t like children. Many of them were frightened of the professor. But for the most part, from MY perspective at least, I believe it is because they lacked imagination.”
Now I was totally flummoxed. “What does imagination have to do with it?”
“Well, THAT should be fairly obvious! They just could not imagine living in a world with a seemingly demented professor who thinks animals can talk, two wild, young twin girls. . . double the trouble, you know. . . not to mention several animals that DO, indeed, talk! And they were right. They would have gone quite mad themselves having to put up with it all!” He paused, took the glasses from his beak and slipped them back into his inside vest pocket since I obviously had no references to read. “But something about YOU is different.”
“Different?” Whatever could be different about me, I wondered. I was an only child. I certainly had NO experience with children. I was well brought up and highly educated, to be sure, or so I had been told, but qualified to be a nanny? No. Not in the least. In fact, I found the thought quite appalling.
“Well,” said he, waddling over to a stone bench and flapping himself up to the seat, “for one thing, you were very polite when you met me, even though you did NOT believe what you were seeing. The others merely ran screaming from the room at our introductions! And then there is the respectful way you described the girls’ silly little tent.” He patted the vacant half of the bench, inviting me to join him. “The professor, dear man, made it. Gave it his best effort, at any rate. I could see you appreciated that.”
Forgetting momentarily my original intent to leave, I walked to the bench and sat down, interested, despite myself. “Well, I’m sure it WOULD be very beautiful OUTSIDE with the sun shining through all those lovely fabrics. It was quite dark in the nursery, you know.”
“Yes. Unfortunately the house as a whole has been quite dark since Bella. . . since the Professor’s wife has been gone. Mrs. Adlard, bless her soul, does what she can to wheedle the poor man from his melancholy, but the girls are the ones who are suffering the most.” His big orange beak bobbed from side to side as he shook his head sadly. “They need a woman in their young lives. Mrs. Adlard hasn’t the time nor the patience for that any more, believe me! She barely tolerates ME! No, no patience at all.”
I didn’t need a great deal of imagination to understand THAT. My own mother had died when I was two, and, though my father had remarried, Eugenia was never the motherly sort, disliking children of any age. Thus I had been raised by a proper and very strict nanny whose sole purpose in life was to mold me into a respectable, intelligent, and MODERN British lady — and make me miserable at every turn. And she had done an admirable job, or so my parents believe. Unfortunately she had NOT been able to teach me how to be happy or content.
Attentive now, Calamus Quill watched the emotions play across my face. No doubt he also noticed the lump in my throat.
My mind was in a whirl! What should I do? They truly were beautiful little girls, even with those silly pink ribbons tied in knots at the back of their heads, and standing there, somewhat forlornly I thought, in the nighties that were entirely too long for them. I wondered, suddenly, if they might have been their mother’s.
“You say, Mr. Quill, that it would only be for a short time while the Professor finishes his book?” I couldn’t believe I had just said that!
“I believe so, yes. Nicodemus, the owl, whom you shall meet later should you decide to stay, has been helping him to organize his notes. Oh, and DO call me Calamus. Except, perhaps, in front of the children. Then I would rather it be Mr. Quill, I think. It’s important, is it not, that they learn to respect their elders.”
Their elders? I positively could not help myself! At his preposterous statement I burst into a fit of laughter. Imagine a GOOSE being their elder! Then fearing I had insulted him, I quickly covered my mouth and tried to regain my composure. The expression on his face did not change. His face? Oh, dear Lord, I had ALREADY gone mad, as geese do NOT have faces! And without meaning to, I burst out laughing again.
The sound that came from his beak was more of a honk than a laugh, but I could tell by the odd ruffling of his feathers that he was also finding his comment amusing. I think that is the moment I decided to stay. That is also the moment I noticed the gate set in the wall near the doors to the library, a gate with stairs that led down from the garden to the grounds below, and likely out to Lollipop Lane itself. I thought about leaving, but only for a moment because, in spite of my initial surprise at the day’s events, I really had nothing better to do in my somewhat mundane life! I was only in London because I had been bored enough in the country to accompany my father to interview a new veterinarian for our estate.
“All right,” said I, looking down at the distinguished old gander, “I will stay. But only until the Professor’s book is finished.”
It might have been the way the sunlight fell across the garden just then, but I could swear that I saw Calamus Quill smile.