tainthorpe Hall is a misery, in all things save one. The overdesigned monstrosity has such thick walls that it retains its warmth, even on chilly days. What that bodes for the summer, he cannot say. It might be like a cave, and remain cool. Or like an oven. Probably the latter. He’ll bake along with the rest then, and be about as useless. Can anything be done? He doubts it. Something will have to be done.
Steam rising slowly from another delicate cup of coffee. The girl puts it down on a clear patch of the desk. There are few enough of these. She bobs, still seeming uncertain of her position. “Thank you Daphne.” He wraps his fingers around the cup. Feels the heat coursing through his fingers. Slow at first, then rushing on through the pale celadon cup. He feels the reddening of his skin long before he can see it, feels the urge to snap is hand away. He does not let go. He breathes. Slow and deep. Slow and deep. The heat is still there, so is the pain, pricking like thorns. The desire to let go lessens, falls away. He breaths out again, expelling the pain. Transmuting it. Leaving only focus and a strange calm behind.
He lets go of the cup.
Daphne is still hovering about. She does not normally hover. Usually glides off back to the niche where she makes the coffee. He looks over to her. She is biting her lip and tilting her head down. Why? Her hands are clasped, her knuckles pale. Nervous? What of? “The coffee is a touch bitter today Daphne. You seem a little unfocused. Is everything well with you? You’re not coming down with a cold, perhaps?”
“Mr Shrikeweed, sir, only it’s,” she stops, flushes slightly. “It’s nothing. Nothing.”
“Seems to be a fairly significant nothing. A paradox. I cannot abide a paradox. Say what’s on your mind.”
“Only it’s my brother sir. See, he’s supposed to be getting married tomorrow, but he’s gone and vanished again.”
“Again?” Shrikeweed picks up the coffee cup, cool enough now. Daphne has a brother? Well, why shouldn’t she? Brothers occur. He considers his own. What would he do if Will vanished? Probably thank the heavens and then move on with his life. No, too harsh. Will’s not a bad sort, just not the sort Shrikeweed would choose as a companion. Too romantic, too enamored of the notion of rural idyll. The notion, not the reality. Will would break out in a rash, sneeze himself into next week, and then lament the whole thing for a month. Brothers. Nothing but exasperation.
“Again, yes sir. See, when he gets nervous, like proper nervous.”
“Such as before his own wedding?”
“Oh yes sir, nervous as you please. Stalking about the house, jittery, jumpy, you know. Well, when that happens he usually takes himself off for a day or two. Gets drunk, or smokes himself to a stupor on opium. After that, he’s usually fine for a while. But sometimes we have to go and look for him.”
“I take it you’ll want the rest of the day, and perhaps tomorrow off to extract this brother of yours from whatever low dive he is currently wasting away in?”
“Oh yes sir, please sir.” She looks nervous again, hangs her head. “But, what about your coffee sir, and the Incumbent’s?”
“Go Daphne. Collect your brother. Pour some coffee into him if need be. That should settle both your nerves. I cannot have my coffee wizard off her game. Think of the chaos Daphne. The absolute chaos.”[/b] He smiles at her, trying to look sympathetic. Likely a failure. “Off you go.” He waves her off.
She bobs again. “Thank you Mr Shrikeweed, sir. Thank you.” She flits from the room. Shrikeweed shakes his head. Sips his coffee again, and turns back to the papers.
Dispatch boxes piling up. Ramparts of blue and red leather cases, each full of papers. Diplomatic communiques, position papers on the latest political fads, reports on reports of still other reports. Most of them wrong. Wrong-headed at least. They will all need to be addressed, dissected, synthesized. Some he will quietly kill. Strangling them with red tape. The rest, well, the rest will have to go before the Incumbent.
He opens the next box. Blue. Internal government matters. And pulls out the stack of papers. It will take hours. At least he has time.