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From The Birthright...

'Oh, you darling! You're so cute, I'm gonna cover you with marmalade and eat you up. Yes, Momma's gonna eat you all-l-l up. And then there'll be no more Gillian. No, there'll be no-o-o more Gillian.'

Amanda watched Christine playing with her little daughter on the bed and marvelled at how otherwise mature people can go to pieces around babies.

'Does baby want her bubba? Does baby want her bubba?' Christine teased the infant with the bottle, offering it to her and pulling it away just as she reached for it. The baby laughed and gurgled merrily.

Amanda divided her attention between these antics and some indefinite point in space outside the window where she gazed abstractedly.

'Do you remember John?' she asked abruptly.


'John - the fellow who was with us back in the spring, the day we buried Dad.'

'Oh, yes. The soldier... Boy, this kid eats a lot. That's her fourth bottle today.' Christine put her nose up close to the baby's. 'Don't you laugh at me, you rascal! You think it's funny that Momma has to change so many diapers, don't you? You drink and drink and drink. It just goes in one end and out the other. Yes, it just goes in one end and out the other.' Christine picked the baby up and held the bottle for her.

'What did you think of him?'
'He seemed like a good guy.... He's really got you preoccupied, Mandy. What's the matter? Your womanly instincts getting the better of you?'

Amanda scowled.
'I thought he was quite a gentleman,' Christine added.
'He's certainly that. Can you keep a secret?'
'Probably not.'
'Could you try?'
'Okay, I'll try. But I can't be held responsible if it gets out.'
'I'll tell you anyway... He proposed to me when he was here.'
'Good for you. You can put another notch on your diary cover.'
'How'd he take it?'
'When you turned him down.'
'I didn't turn him down.'
Christine almost dropped the baby. 'You accepted?!'
'No. But I didn't turn him down. I agreed to let his proposal stand.'
'That man is making strides. You've never done that with anyone else.'
'No one's ever made such an offer.... Maybe I did the wrong thing. I'd hate to lead him on and then disappoint him.'

'Have you been keeping up with him?'

Amanda nodded. 'There's almost always a letter in the mail between us. He hasn't mentioned it since though.'

'You must be fond of him if you write to him so much.'

'Hardly anyone else writes to me.'

'I write to you, Mandy. If you hadn't blown up at the rest of the family, maybe they'd write to you.'

'That doesn't help me.'

'I'd say that if he wants to get tied up hopelessly with you, that's his problem. You have to think of yourself.'

'Sometimes I wonder if I know what's good for me. He is a lot of fun. He has a knack for lifting my spirits.'

'Those things are important. You've carved out such an austere life for yourself, you neglect them. But underneath, you need them as much as anyone. As a nurse, you try to comfort other people, but you receive so little comfort yourself. Your well is going to run dry.'

'Marriage is such a high price to pay to fill it.'

'Mandy, I know what I'd do. But that's never mattered. Why are you picking my brain anyway?'

'You'd marry him.'

'Of course I'd marry him! How else do you get sweet little babies that are so precious you can't do anything with them but eat them up?' Christine set the bottle aside and smothered her daughter with kisses.

Amanda sighed and decided to let the matter drop.

From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana works as a housemaid at Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. She lives in the estate village of Edensor and is riding home at the end of her day...

As she rode over the hill, Diana came upon the head shepherd out checking his flock. Seeing her approach, he tidied his hair, replaced his hat, and, full of pleasant anticipation, waited in her path.

'Oh, Mr. Burgess. I'd love to visit, but if I stop to talk to everybody, I'll never get home and my father will never get his supper.'

'I'll have to catch you closer to the house sometime and be first in line. How is your father, Diana?'

'Hungry I expect. Otherwise he's fine. Seems he never gets sick. And how is life in the Burgess household?'

'You should come see for yourself. You haven't been over for a while.'

'Not since lambing. It's just been busy, busy, busy.'

'I like being that way myself, not that I'm unusually industrious. It's just that it keeps other things from bothering me.'

'Oh? Troubles beset you if you stand still?'

'Isn't that true for everyone?'

'If I stand still, I just get bored.'

'I'm glad for you. I guess I was that way when I was your age.'

'What's on your mind these days?'

'Ah, maybe I shouldn't have gotten started. It's just this estate business since my father died. My siblings have been no end of trouble for me. I'm the executor and I've been trying to be fair to everyone.'

'It's not settled yet? Your father didn't have much, did he?'

'You might be surprised. He was quite frugal all his life.'

'He lived with you for the last several years.'

'And he intended that I should get special consideration for it. But it's bad enough when I try dividing everything evenly. My brothers and sister point out that I'm better off than they are. That's true, but I wouldn't be if I'd followed their spendthrift ways. And they hardly ever came to see Dad.'

'They don't live far away.'

'No. I've certainly heard lots from them since his death.'

'Well, try not to let it bother you, if you need a bit of glib advice.'

'I've been feeling better lately. When old Sam Westover died last week, his family asked me to be a pallbearer. I felt quite honoured. There were lots of other people they could have asked. It made me realize that no matter how badly my kin think of me, I'm still well thought of around here.'

'You poor fellow. You must have been feeling down, if being a pall-bearer gave you a lift.'

'I guess that is getting pretty bad.'

'We think well of you indeed. Don't ever forget that.'

'It's nice to be reminded.'

'Say hi to your wife for me. I'll come over before long and we'll have a proper visit.'

From Homeward...

The Newmans' barn had three gambrel peaks forming east, west, and south mows. Part of the west mow was taken up by the granary, an enclosed room that housed grain in large compartments on either side of a middle aisle.

The mows were piled high with bales of hay now. Haying had just finished and grain harvest was about to begin. All of the oats in the granary were from the previous year. Only two of the six compartments had any grain left in them at all.

Adam was carrying pailfuls of these oats from the granary, across the drive floor, to a large wooden bin recessed within the east mow. When ground oats were needed for the cattle, a spout leading down from the bin would be opened, allowing the grain to spill into the oat grinder in the byre below. It was one of Adam's regular duties to keep the oat bin full.

He had just emptied a pailful of grain and was returning for another when he was startled by somebody's form just inside the granary door.

'Who's there?' called Adam, his voice tinged with alarm.

'It's just me,' came the reply, as the intruder emerged out onto the drive floor. 'Remember... Ben? I saw you at the churchyard last.'

'I remember,' said Adam, still looking uneasy. 'How did you get in the granary?'

'You have an outside door on it, you know,' was the indirect answer.

'I also know that I locked it - on the inside.'

Ben took note of the secured latch on the door at the far end of the room. 'Oh, so you did. I didn't count on that.' He looked genuinely chagrined. 'It seems then that I couldn't have come in through the door after all.'

Adam eyed Ben suspiciously. 'You must know how you got in. Why don't you just tell me?'

'Well, I could have been hiding in there.'

'Why would you hide in the granary? I've been all through it. I would have seen you.'

The man scratched his head thoughtfully. 'Suppose I don't tell you?'
'Why not tell me?'
Ben sighed. 'I don't think you'd believe me. I'll leave if you want.'
'All I want is an explanation.'
'And I don't want to give you one.'

Adam noticed a familiar aura about this visitor. A pleasant sensation stirred within the youth, like the one he experienced on the occasion of Ben's first visit. Mingled with this budding euphoria was a contrasting feeling of fear, causing Adam to take a few steps backwards.

Ben smiled slightly. 'Are you afraid of me, Adam?'

'I'm not sure. Should I be?'

'Not at all. Have I ever done anything that even threatened to harm you?'

'Have I invaded your privacy?'
'Does it really matter how I got in the granary?'

Adam swallowed noticeably.

Ben reached for another empty pail. 'What's more important is why I came. I wanted to give you a hand here. Let's not stand around so much!'

From The Birthright...

Amanda's bridal party has arrived at the church in two carriages...

The first carriage stopped directly in front of the church to discharge its four passengers. Amanda's coach pulled in behind. She opened the door to get out.

'Not yet, Mandy,' said Christine. 'Wait till he moves ahead.'

'What does it matter? We're here.'

'You're supposed to get out on the carpet.'

Amanda stuck her head out the door. 'Oh, you didn't. Red carpet out to the street?'

'To protect your dress. You can't walk to the church door with it hiked up around your knees.'

When the carriage had pulled ahead, the rest of the party swarmed around the door.
'Let me take your bouquet,' said Virginia.
'I'll hang on to your train,' offered Christine from behind.
'Be careful of the wheels when you get out,' warned Olivia. 'They're dirty.'
'Amanda, don't show so much leg,' Mrs. Clark admonished her. 'You can step out gracefully.'
'Would someone take her train, please?' said Christine. 'Hold on, Mandy. You'll rip it.'
'Mandy, stay on the carpet,' said Olivia.
'And don't get ahead of us,' added Christine.
'Don't take such big steps,' Virginia suggested. 'We're not out on a hike.'

'I'm tired of being told what to do!'

'Mandy, there are people watching,' said Mrs. Clark.

'There are always people watching. I put up with so much because people are watching. I want some control over my life!'

'I was afraid of this,' Christine lamented. 'She's cracking. Let's get it over with. Move!'

So much for being coy. Bystanders looked on in wonder as the protesting bride was hurried through the church doors.

'Stop pushing!' Amanda insisted.

'Mandy, there are two hundred people in there who can hear you,' Christine informed her.

'Two - hundred - people?' Amanda repeated staccato, taking her first look into the sanctuary. 'I put seventy-five names on that list.'

'We added a few.'

'Thy will be done,' prayed the distressed bride. 'It's out of my hands.'

From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana and Morgan have been descending the dome of St Paul's Cathedral...

When they arrived at the Whispering Gallery, Morgan told Diana to have a seat on the near side while he went diametrically opposite. When he got there, she put her ear to the wall. She picked up other conversations but could not make out all the breathy dialogue.

Finally, she clearly discerned, 'Diana... Calling Diana...'
'I hear you! This is Diana.'
'Diana Woodforde?'
'Diana Evelyn Woodforde.'
'Diana Evelyn Woodforde?'
'That's right! You heard me right.'
'Morgan Vanderbilt here.'
'It works! I hear you clearly.'
'Diana has black hair.'
'I hear that. Say something else.'
'Diana has blue eyes.'
'It's amazing!'
'You say something.'
'Morgan has a red nose.'
'I do not.'
'Morgan has reckless lips.'
'I thought we were over that.'
'Morgan has a reckless heart.'
'Change the subject.'
'Had enough?'
'A bird in the hand...' Morgan began.
'Is worth two in the bush,' Diana concluded.
'A stitch in time...'
'Saves nine.'
'To be or not to be...'
'That is the question.'
'Friends, Romans, countrymen...'
'Lend me your ears. Ha, ha. You have my ear.'
'He jests at scars...'
'Who never felt a wound.'
'Love's ears sweet communion make.'
'I don't know that one.'
'Two hearts having gently swayed.'
'Is that Shakespeare?'
'No, this is Morgan.'
'I know who you are. Who are you quoting?'
'Are those your own words?'
'What did I say?'
'Love's ears sweet communion make. Two hearts having gently swayed.'
'That's right.'
'What's it mean?'
'Nothing. It just sounds sweet. Those are sweet nothings.'
'You're whispering me sweet nothings?'
'And you whispered them back.'
'How dare you! How dare you! You get something straight, fellow. If anyone's going to tell me nothing, it's my Alan. That's his privilege. If you want to talk to me, you say something of consequence.'

From Homeward...

Thursday morning brought with it a sense of anticipated relief for Adam because this day would see the last of the initiation events. The nonsense and hilarity of the week would soon be replaced completely with more sober, academic concerns.

At noontime, while he attended classes, three upper-class students from his college undertook an unusual mission. The trio drove into the city stockyards in a pickup truck carrying empty garbage cans and some scoop shovels. They unloaded the containers at a large stall, recently the quarters of several head of livestock but now empty, except for a thick layer of manure covering the floor. This refuse occupied the students' attention.

Protected by gloves and rubber boots, they began shovelling the foul slop into the trash cans. The odour soon overpowered them, forcing a retreat some distance to fresher air. After a few minutes' respite, they resumed their labour.

Not far away sat two elderly stockyard workmen. While eating their lunch, they observed the activity of the students, two of whom wore university jackets. Between munches on their sandwiches, the workmen conversed.

'I wonder what those fellows are up to, Norbert - university types out here shovelling manure into trash cans. 'Tis a queer occupation for such scholarly gents.'

'Their ways are above me, Lester. I'm a humble man myself and can't rise up to the great sort of thoughts that go on in such educated noggins as theirs. But 'tis hardly the kind of work I'd do if I had any university learning in me.'

'Perhaps they're undertaking a great, scholarly study of some kind. I understand there are scientific reasons for investigating such stuff. They're likely taking specimens.'

'Could be, but a dozen trash cans of it does seem an uncommonly large amount for such work.'

'True; but 'tis not for us to question the ways of scholars, humble men that we are. Up with you, Norbert. Let's see if we can assist them. We may never have a chance to help in something like this again.'

The workmen picked themselves up and made their obsequious way over to the students.

'A good afternoon to you, gents,' was Lester's hearty greeting. 'We don't often see scholars from the university out here. 'Tis a rare privilege, indeed.'

'Yeah, well it's only a once a year sorta thing - every September,' replied one student as he helped load a filled trash can onto the truck.

'You've been at it every year, eh? You scholars are a persistent lot and I'm sure it will pay off. Especially as you're taking so much. Perhaps you'd be interested in some different varieties though.' Lester thought for a few moments. 'Now, we had bologna bulls in this stall you're collecting from here. And over in that stall we had Angus steers. And over there we had Holstein heifers. How be if Norbert and I fill a few cans with the other types?'

'That'd be great,' replied a student. 'Much obliged.'

' 'Tis no obligation at all. We consider it an honour to be of service. Come along, Norbert; scholarship will not wait on us.'

After the two men filled each can, Lester attached a label with the name of the appropriate animal. Together, they managed to lift each specimen onto the truck.

With five people working on the project, the load was soon complete. One of the students double-checked on the number of filled cans.

'Let's see. Three cans wide by four cans deep - that's all twelve.'

'Such a clever technique!' remarked Lester. 'I'd never have thought of it myself. I'd have counted each of them separately. But, that's why you are where you are and I am where I am, I guess.'

Lester shook hands with each of the three students as they climbed into the truck's cab.

' 'Tis a pleasure to meet such fine, up-and-coming young men as you gents. I never had the opportunity to go so far myself. I did have a second cousin, on my mother's side, who went to university - that was back in the Old Country. His talk was full of '-isms,' '-ists,' and '-ologies'. I needed a dictionary with me just to carry on a conversation with him. But most of us are lowly folk and not ambitious enough to better our lot.'

'Yeah, well... them's the breaks,' replied one of the scholars.

'I won't keep you with any more of my idle chatter,' said Lester. 'I wish you well in your pursuits.'

The truck's engine started and the three students headed back to the university with their cargo.

From The Birthright...

Amanda is waiting with Uncle Andy at the threshold of the sanctuary as her wedding ceremony is about to start...

The last soft piece of prelude music died out and the organ swelled to full volume, bringing the assemblage to its feet with the majestic strain of Lauda Anima. 'Shall we go?' asked Uncle Andy when Rachel had gotten about ten feet ahead of them.

'You'll have to take the first step.'

All these eyes turned on me, thought Amanda after passing the empty pews at the back. I wish this veil had a heavier mesh.

Some of the women got their hankies out and sniffled softly.
'Isn't she lovely?'
'She looks radiant.'
'If only she could bottle this moment.'
I'm going to have diarrhea, thought Amanda. My innards are threatening open revolt.

What's wrong with these people? Treat them to a good hanging and they'll come out by the hundreds....

I'm still here, Chris. You don't have to keep looking over your shoulder....

Why such lofty music? They're supposed to just have a drum beating in the background....

Look at that minister in his formal robes. Where's his black hood?

Oh, and John... if it were anyone but you, I wouldn't be here. How could you do this to me? You and your fancy letters, and your good humor, and your thoughtfulness, and your loyalty...

She smiled at him compassionately in return for his beaming pride.

I can't help feeling a little sorry for you, John, she thought. Why are people so eager to throw their independence away? Give them chains and a padlock and they'll put them on themselves.

'You look terrific,' he whispered when she had reached his side.

I ought to, was her silent reply. They spent a mint dolling me up.

The minister prepared to speak as the processional hymn faded.

He's going to read the sentence, thought Amanda.

'Dearly beloved, we are gathered...'

He puts it so nicely. What treachery.

'...is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly...'

Ha. I've had enough pressure on me to make my own diamond.

'If any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.'

Once, just once in my life, I'd like to see someone object.... He'd have Christine at his throat.

'John Calvin Farrington, wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?'

Don't feel obligated, John.

'I will.'

'Amanda Jane Clark, wilt thou...'

It's a short life. Our days are as grass. 'I will.'

'Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?'

'I do,' replied Uncle Andy. Amanda kissed him farewell and he took his seat.

Now I am on my own. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow...

The minister turned around and led the wedding party up the steps to the dais for the rest of the ceremony.

This scaffold has only four steps, thought Amanda as she climbed the last one. It'll be a short drop.

She felt Christine nudging her. No, thanks, Chris: I'll do without the blindfold.

'Psst! Your bouquet.'

Oh, sorry. Here you go. Put it on my grave.

The bride and groom joined hands and John pledged his troth to Amanda, repeating the minister's words verbatim with unfaltering resolution.

From The Distracted Gardener...

Diana and Odo Russell are in a rowboat at the Henley Regatta. She is sitting in summery splendour in the bow, her parasol open behind her...

A skiff drew alongside Diana's boat. She didn't say anything until it bumped them. 'Hey, there! Don't crowd us. There's lots of water.'

Suddenly the skiff's lone occupant lunged at their craft, grabbing the gunnel. Diana recognized the man from London.

'It's a Pre-Raphaelite!' She grabbed her sun umbrella. 'Don't let him in the boat!'

'I want to talk to you,' said the intruder.

'I don't want to talk to you!' Diana beat the man's hands with the closed parasol.

'Ow! Ow! Stop! I want to paint you. I must paint you.'

'I told you no!'

'Diana, Diana,' Odo pleaded. 'You'll damage the woodwork.'

She applied her weapon to the man's head instead. He tried to protect his cranium with one arm and hang on to their gunnel with the other.

'Ouch! Ouch! Stop it! I just want you to lie in a tub of water.'

'I've told you no! I'm sick of you people. You ruin a perfectly good afternoon.'

'Diana, we haven't given the diplomatic option a chance.'

'Dodo, this is no time for diplomacy! He'll tip us over. Hit him with the oar!'

'I can't hit him with the oar. I'll wind up in Newgate.'

'It's self-defence, Dodo! He wants me wet.'

'I knew there were other women inside you!' declared the Pre-Raphaelite. 'Your inner mystery emerges.'

Diana struck once more. 'There's nothing mysterious about me.'

'This is the witch goddess coming out.'
Diana clobbered him again.
'Proserpine, the underworld goddess.'
Diana delivered another blow.
'Pandora, with her evil box. Ouch! Circe, the enchantress. Ooo! Hippolyta, the Amazon queen. Ow!'

Each of the PRB's suggestions of a Pre-Raphaelite archetype was punctuated by a blow from Diana's parasol.

'Diana, please!' said Odo. 'Ease off. Let's try reasoning with him.'

She relented, tired after a score of blows, but stood poised to strike again.

'You're a glutton for punishment,' Odo remarked, a hint of admiration in his voice.

'It's an unavoidable price,' explained the PRB philosophically. 'There is no such thing as beauty without pain.'

Diana hit him again.

'Ow! Stop it!' He clenched his bruised head with both hands.

With a deft pull upward on the near gunnel of the narrow craft, Odo sent the PRB tumbling backwards into the drink and then rowed away as quickly as he could.

Diana sat in the bow, trembling, her ruined parasol still clutched firmly. Odo turned to her.

'Oh, Dodo. What am I going to do? I can hardly go out in public anymore. Not with the Pre-Raphaelites around.'

'They seem to be your undoing. Wasn't that John Millais?'

'I think so. He wants me to pose as Ophelia.'

Odo could not contain his mirth.

'It's not funny, Dodo.'

'Look around. The crowd disagrees.'

From Homeward...

Ben made a pathetic picture as he lay in his cell at the jail. He spoke little to anyone, refused to eat, and slept fitfully.

A psychiatrist was called in to treat him. Bearded and wearing round, wire-rimmed glasses, the man might have passed for Sigmund Freud himself. 'I'm Dr. Fraser,' explained the psychiatrist. 'I'm going to ask you a number of questions and I'd like your cooperation in answering them. You will talk to me, won't you?'

Ben nodded slowly but did not sit up from his recumbent position on the bed.

'Good. I'm sure we can get along splendidly. You haven't been very cooperative with the authorities here though. They've been unable to provide me with any personal information about you. I don't even know your name....'

'Benael,' was the lethargic reply.
'Your last name?'
'No, my first name. I don't have a last name.'

The psychiatrist looked dubious and took some notes on his pad. 'Are you from around here, Benael?'

'Where are you from?'
'You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
'When were you born?'
'I don't remember.'
'You look about twenty-five....'
'Think what you like.'

Dr. Fraser sighed and added to his notes. 'Now, Benael, I'd like you to try to remember as far back in your life as you can. What is the earliest event you can recall?'

'The very earliest?'
'Yes. Go right back to the beginning.'
'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep....'

'I mean, your beginning,' interrupted the psychiatrist.
'I tried to hit it as close as I could.'
'Can you recall for me any of your early childhood?'
'I never had a childhood.'

Dr. Fraser added to his notes. 'Could you tell me about your parents? Are they still alive?'

'My father is.'
'When did your mother pass away?'
'She didn't pass away. I never had a mother.'
More notetaking.

'What sort of person is your father? Do you get along well with him?'

'He's quite authoritarian. I don't really think about what sort of person he is. He just is. I never question him in any way. I get along well with him. I'd be afraid to do otherwise.'

'Does he know you're in jail?'
'I'm sure he knows.'
'Has he made no effort to get you out?'
'Not yet. But he will. He did the last time.'
'You've been in jail before?'
'One other time. It was during the Inquisition in Spain.'
'Do you realize how long ago that was?'
'Four or five hundred years, I guess.'
A profusion of notetaking.

'I once helped St. Peter break out of jail,' added Ben. 'That might be of interest to you.'

'No doubt St. Peter was quite grateful,' said Dr. Fraser wryly.

'Mmm - he seemed a little confused actually. He didn't want to come at first but I coaxed him.'

'Have you ever been under the care of a physician before, Benael?'
'Not really. I've never been sick.'
'No. I once had to see someone who was a physician though, so I pretended to be sick. It was back in the seventeenth century, I think. I forget just what the fellow's name was. I think it was Harvey something.'

'William Harvey, no doubt.'
'Yes, I believe that was his name, now that you mention it.'

'What made you go out on the ledge the other day? Have problems been especially bad for you lately?'
'I wanted out of the world.'
'Why do you want out of the world?'
'I feel out of place here. I feel oppressed.'
'Do you not have friends? Do you not get along well with other people?'

'I try to get along with people. But so often it doesn't work out. I don't get to know many people very well.'

'Do you socialize at all?'
'I mingle a lot. But I don't form many close associations.'
'What kind of sex life do you have?'
'I've never had sex.'
'Why not?'
'For one thing, I'm not married.'
Dr. Fraser took some more notes.

The interview went on for most of an hour. The psychiatrist emerged looking rather frustrated. He conferred with a clinical psychologist.

'He's not the most cooperative patient. I think I've gotten all I can out of him for now. See what you can do with a Rorschach test. We'll try to put our findings together when you're done."