Batman and Catwoman in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 39: Polishing Silver

Polishing Silver by Chris Dee
The Journal of Alfred Pennyworth

The Ceremonies of Life

I broke off my journal entry last night somewhat abruptly, for I was suddenly struck by the realization of a practical matter in preparation for tomorrow’s (now today’s) sad event, a matter that presents something of a daunting challenge. 

I hope the reader will not judge me harshly for dwelling as I have on the more practical aspects of the sad day before us.  One is not insensible to the distressing nature of the occasion.  Nevertheless, one has a job to do.  There is, as I have already explained, a strong wish to give one’s best in tribute to Miss Stephanie.  I have often found too that there is comfort in times of great strife in the doing of ordinary tasks. 

It is now early morning, I should explain before I go further.  Miss Stephanie’s memorial is to begin at eleven thirty.  I have arisen far earlier than is my habit, for I shall have to prepare breakfast for Master Bruce and Miss Selina, see to the acquisition of certain supplies for the day’s menus, and double-check that arrangements are as they should be for the service proper in the portrait gallery before guests begin arriving at eleven.

It is that second matter, the foodstuffs for the buffet following the service, which have presented me with something of a dilemma. 

I should explain.

Before retiring to my room last night, I prepared the day’s menus as usual to present Miss Selina for her approval.  I naturally labored over the proposed menu for the buffet.  The guest list for this sad occasion is more than usually varied:  it includes not only those of unknown alien biology, but of diverse walks of life.  I looked for guidance to the Queen’s own mandates for her “Meet the People” lunches:  appetizing and tasty foods but nothing too exotic.  I am therefore proposing, and expect Miss Selina will approve, a selection of tea sandwiches, cold cutlets, small pastry cups filled with hard-boiled eggs and lobster meat, chicken in aspic, scones and Scottish shortbread.  These last two, I need hardly add, are in acknowledgment of Miss Stephanie’s Scottish heritage, which she was always so keen to share with any who took an interest.

I had completed this menu before retiring to my room.  It was only after I had done so and began writing in my journal that I realized I had absolutely no way to obtain the ingredients for this or any other menu. 

In the normal course of domestic service, it is common knowledge when a household in the neighborhood undergoes one of the ceremonies of life.  When the manor hosted Master Dick’s wedding to Ms. Barbara, for example, Mr. Harriman of Harriman’s Gourmet Pantry sent over a tray of bagels and croissants so I wouldn’t have to worry about making breakfast for the household in the midst of so many other preparations.  Similarly, when our neighbor Ingrid Winthrop perished in a Firefly-related explosion three years ago, I myself went to Harriman’s to do the shopping for their cook, Mrs. Babbitt, in order to relieve her of this time-consuming chore.  Any cook of worth, it should be understood, goes to the market personally and selects their ingredients with their own hand, so it was an honour that Mrs. Babbitt permitted me to assist her in that way.  The endeavor also enabled Master Tim to infiltrate the Winthrop home disguised as a delivery boy, and there he obtained a valuable lead resulting in the capture of Garfield Lynns, the Firefly.  That aspect was most gratifying as well. 

The difficulty in this case, which I had not foreseen, was that no one should know Wayne Manor was hosting a funeral.  If I go to Harriman’s two days before my usual marketing day, this deviation will surely pique the interest of Monsieur Anatole.  Monsieur Anatole, the Finn’s chef de cuisine from next door, is a Frenchman of more than usual arrogance.  The unseemly interest he takes in my purchases at Harriman’s and his presumptuous use of that intelligence to ferret out my menus is an ongoing nuisance.

My personal irritation with this man is, I must emphasize, a minor point only.  The security of Master Bruce’s secret (and those of his guests) is the prime concern.  I must somehow obtain provisions to feed some sixteen guests in a manner befitting the occasion.  I cannot let this insolent frog compromise the preparations for Miss Stephanie’s memorial. 

I confess I was so confounded by the predicament that I left my room and confided it to Miss Selina.  Her offer to burgle Harriman’s on my behalf, obtaining whatever ingredients I wished (and leaving a suitable quantity of cash in payment, of course), did not, I am sorry to say, seem an ideal solution.  She quickly pointed out that Oracle, Aquaman, Nightwing, James Gordon, and even Master Bruce have all availed themselves of her services at various times, and I was obliged to explain that my objections were not ethical so much as practical.  The cutlets must be selected while Mr. Harriman is on hand to assist, and as for the lobster… 

In any case, I told her that, regrettably, the ingredients I required could only be obtained while the store was open for business. She looked so disappointed at being unable to assist me that I acquiesced to her second suggestion, although I am far from certain of its viability. 

But I cannot take the time to worry about it now.  The sun is up, and I really must see to my duties.


The day is over. 

The weather was exceptionally fine. 

This appears to have struck Master Dick as a cruel trick of nature, that the day should be so beautiful when they had gathered for such a solemn purpose.  

Of course, his wedding, also held here at the manor, was equally favoured with splendid weather.  One supposes the poor lad cannot help but make the comparison.

For myself, I believe notable weather, good or bad, is more of a blessing on these occasions than the young ones comprehend.  It gives them something to talk about.  For all the fantastic exploits these young people undertake, they are woefully but somewhat touchingly inept when faced with the ceremonies of life.

In any case, the day began early, as the reader is already aware.  Master Bruce and Miss Selina were unexpectedly accommodating in terms of breakfast.  They were both up and about before I was.  That meant no tray to prepare, no bath to draw or clothes to lay out for Master Bruce, and no breakfast in the dining room. 

I learned of this unexpected boon as I left my room and detected music and the rhythmic squeak of exercise equipment coming from Miss Selina’s suite.  I ventured in to see what she would require in the way of refreshment, and it was then that she informed me that Master Bruce had also arisen and was, as one might have predicted, already in the cave.

“He figures he can get in about three hours on the, the Brown case,” she told me, “and still have plenty of time to change before anybody gets here.”

The Brown case was, of course, Miss Stephanie’s murder.  You may well imagine the vehemence of the master’s resolve in this matter.  A small portion of the cave, a sort of locker room adjacent to the shower, had been turned into a temporary store room for several filing cabinets and tumbling mats, while the space these objects had occupied in the main cavern was reclaimed in order to organize and study all forensic evidence related to the Brown case.

We all shared, it need hardly be said, the master’s wish to see this heinous crime solved and the perpetrator brought swiftly to justice.  But I believe this collective desire to see justice done is amplified, in Master Bruce’s case, by a wish to resolve the matter before Master Tim could become involved in its conclusion.  After the tragic loss of Master Jason, no one is more aware than Master Bruce of the particular danger—it is not too strong a word—the danger to crimefighters stricken with a loss of this kind.  Armed as they are with great arsenals of weaponry, developed as they are into peak physical condition, schooled as they are in terrible fighting arts, the danger is very great indeed.  I know, because he has told me, that Master Bruce wrestled with the question of ending the Joker’s vile existence after Master Jason’s brutal slaying.  I know too that he is plagued on occasion with doubts as to the wisdom of his decision to leave that heinous clown alive.  As much as Batman wants to find and punish Miss Stephanie’s killer, there is no question in my mind that Master Bruce’s greater goal is to spare Master Timothy that decision and those doubts.

In any case, I left Miss Selina to her exercise and proceeded down the hall to the portrait gallery.  This wide hallway atop the main staircase overlooks the Great Hall and was therefore thought to be the most suitable location for the memorial.  The gallery is elegant but austere, making it ideal in terms of tone.  And there were no furnishings to remove, only the Wayne family portraits. 

This task Miss Selina completed last night instead of going out for “her prowl,” and it was for that reason I was able to approach her about my difficulty regarding Monsieur Anatole.  I found her hard at it, having relocated about half the portraits by then to the unused north drawing room and bringing from there a number of small gilt chairs for the guests to seat themselves.

She undertook this chore, I need hardly add, over my strong objection.  Miss Selina is (although one refrains from telling her so to her face) the mistress of the manor.  It is simply not appropriate for her to be troubling herself with such menial tasks as taking pictures off the wall.  While I would not dream of uttering the words “mistress of the manor” or even “lady of the house” to emphasize my point, I did endeavor to dissuade her once again from a chore that was so inappropriate to her position.

The reader will appreciate that this was the close of a long and trying day. I had enjoyed not a moment’s rest since the arrival of the tragic news about Miss Stephanie.  I had cancelled Master Bruce’s appointments, managed the ever-swelling guest list from the various heroes prodded by Mr. Kent to pay their respects, I consoled Miss Selina and Master Bruce as well as I was able, I had an unexpected dinner guest invade my kitchen for a chat, I devised a menu for persons of unknown meta-human and alien metabolisms, and then, just as I had begun to unwind, I was struck with the not-inconsiderable dilemma presented by Monsieur Anatole.  So perhaps I can be excused if, in the course of expressing my thought to Miss Selina, I had not fully considered that my words were delivered to Catwoman as well.

She winked at me in what can only be described as an elfish manner before remarking:

“Alfred, please, taking art off the walls is what I do.  And ‘inappropriate’ has never stopped me before.”

There followed a grin of such naughtily impish amusement that one was forced, quite simply, to withdraw from the conversation. 

I nevertheless returned to the portrait gallery this morning, immediately on leaving Miss Selina in her suite, that I might inspect the results of her efforts arranging the gallery.  Those efforts—inappropriate as they most certainly were for the lady of the house to undertake—were carried out with undeniable sensibility and taste.  The portraits were all removed, and only a single painting, a rather inspiring sunrise, now hung on the wall facing the rows of gilt chairs.  Two urn stands stood on either side with a simple spray of flowers displayed on each.  Satisfied with this arrangement, I proceeded downstairs to the kitchen to see about the food shopping. 

Mr. Kent has, of course, never hesitated to give assistance whenever it was sought, but that did not make the asking any easier.  He was planning to come into Gotham anyway for the memorial.  He assured me that coming a few hours earlier would be no inconvenience.  He said making the necessary purchases from Harriman’s on my behalf would be no trouble at all.  And he himself pointed out (with some amusement) that his means of delivery was more than discreet.

While I was grateful, to be sure, for his gracious generosity in helping me obtain the ingredients I required, I was and am appalled by the trouble Mr. Kent did wind up taking.  

Not twenty minutes had passed since I had hung up the telephone informing him of the situation, than there was a quiet knock at the kitchen door.  I opened it, expecting to see Clark Kent holding three or four bags of provisions from Harriman’s.  Instead, I was confronted with the visage of Superman holding an enormous Maine lobster still in its trap, a basket of fragrantly fresh vegetables, and another basket covered with a plaid napkin that smelled of fresh baked goods.

I admitted him at once, of course, and he began explaining, almost apologetically, that he had made some alterations in my grocery list because he simply could not stomach the prices at Harriman’s. 

“I know Bruce can afford it, Alfred, but I just couldn’t do it.  $65 for a lobster, it’s not right.  Especially when the guys on the Rusty Puppet told me that any time I wanted fresh lobster, I should just swing on by. They were pretty grateful after I pulled them out of that Noreaster last season.”

I hastened to assure him that it was the finest specimen of lobster I had ever seen, but I feared he went to such trouble on my account.  He waved off this concern with a boyish grin.

“What trouble?  And while I was out, I figured I’d stop home for the veggies.  They’re fresher off the vine anyhow.”

By now, I was peering into the third basket, which I saw contained shortbread and scones that still steamed with the most delectable aromas.  This prompted Superman to demur:

“I was just passing over a bakery in Aberdeen when I smelled that.  Figured it would save you the bother of making it from scratch.”

“I see, sir,” I noted.  And I admit I allowed an eyebrow to lift a trifle at this blatant lie.  “In your travels between Gotham, New England, and a farm in Smallville, you flew over Scotland.” 

“Wind currents,” he said with a wink reminiscent of that which Miss Selina had teased me the previous night. 

I was prepared to drop the matter and thank him when the intercom interrupted. 

:: May as well send him down, Alfred.  Since he’s here. ::

Superman glanced at the mechanism from whence Master Bruce’s voice had been heard. Then he looked to me with a more direct gaze than he had made in our conversation thus far.  He broke this after a moment and shook his head.  He may have muttered something to the effect of “I knew it,” but it would have been tactless of me to note his actual words. 

I was naturally aware of devices in the cave that would detect Kryptonian entry into Wayne Manor’s airspace.  I had seen no need to inform Master Bruce of my visitor, the matter being a private one related only to my own domestic concerns.  It was a given that he would know Superman was present in the house, and if he wished to see him he would say so—as he had done. 

Since we were already in the kitchen, I sent Superman down to the cave by way of my pantry elevator.  I had not yet seen Master Bruce, you may recall, so rather than escort our guest personally, I endeavored to prepare coffee and a plate of danish before descending myself.  When I brought these, the gentlemen were already engaged in heated conversation.

“Let him go with you, Bruce,” Superman was saying, “He needs it.  He’s going to do it anyway!  You might as well watch over him and make sure he doesn’t go too far. Psychologically, Tim needs that closure.  Rather than forcefully denying him, let him do it, but be with him the whole time—”

I had, at this point, set down my tray and had just begun to pour as Master Bruce said “When I want your advice, I’ll ask for it,” while Superman rolled right over him with the words “Why do you think I was there to help you get Joker after he killed Jason?”

A most embarrassing silence followed, made all the more embarrassing by my inability to remove myself from the vicinity with the speed tactful prudence required.  The act of pouring hot liquid simply takes a fixed amount of time to complete.  However quickly one may wish to right one’s coffeepot and be gone, there is a limit to the swiftness with which this can be accomplished.  It may be only a second, but it is long enough that one’s continued presence is noted.  And once noted, to depart prematurely, leaving one’s employer with a half-filled cup and his guest with none at all, would only draw attention to the awkward nature of the hiatus.  I therefore took my time (since I had no choice), pouring the coffee while the gentlemen continued to stare at each other in an atmosphere of studied agitation.  I left Master Bruce’s coffee at his side and poured another for Superman.  This gave me an opportunity to break the continuing silence with an inquiry unrelated to the gentlemen’s conversation.

“Cream or sugar, sir?”

“Eh?  Yes.  Both.  Please,” was Superman’s somewhat halted reply.

I made these additions to the mug and held it out for him.  I then offered the danish, first to him and then to Master Bruce.  It may seem at this stage that I was delaying my departure unnecessarily, and in fact that was my intent.  There is, as I observed earlier, a comfort to be found in the ordinary.  Once the gentlemen were forced to disrupt their standoff and engage in the mundane business of accepting a cup of coffee, the tension between them eased.  I was determined to prolong this state as long as possible, without making my efforts conspicuous.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” I asked when I could invent no further reason to remain.

“No thank you, Alfred; that will be all.”

“Yes, thank you very much, Alfred,” Superman echoed.  “The danish was very good.”

I gave a polite nod and departed.  I was gratified to note that, while neither man spoke until the elevator door shut after me, it was no longer a strained silence of some tacit ultimatum.  They were now united in a conspiracy of polite pretense for my benefit—not unlike that Masters Dick and Tim engage in when they have been comparing the charms of Catwoman and Poison Ivy and think I am unaware.

The guests arrived.  The service proceeded.  The buffet was eaten. 

I am negligent in not saying more of the service itself.  I should reproduce the passages Master Bruce read to open the proceedings.  I should faithfully relate Master Tim’s recollections of Miss Stephanie’s first appearance as Spoiler: how she undertook her guise to “spoil” the efforts of her father, Arthur Brown, the criminal known as The Cluemaster. How, as Robin, he had chased her down on that first occasion and unmasked her, and how his surprise was so great at discovering a comely female face beneath her disguise that she was able to escape his grasp.  I should describe his face as he remembered how proud he was introducing her to Batman as a prospective ally.  I should recount Conner Kent’s anecdote of her first time fighting alongside Young Justice.

I am certainly remiss in not saying more of young Cissie King-Jones, once called Arrowette before she left the crimefighting life to become a member of the U.S. Olympic team.  This slim, frail creature, who seemed so unsure as she left her seat to stand before the assembly and speak a few words, who at first spoke so softly and so haltingly, came to reveal a startling and intimate friendship with Miss Stephanie which none of their teammates knew of.  Miss Stephanie had confided in her about many personal matters:  a baby given up for adoption and her subsequent pangs about that sacrifice, her mother’s reckless use of prescription painkillers, and, of course, the romantic tribulations common to all young girls.

I should, as I say, relate all these and more in great detail.  The truth is I cannot, for I was only half listening.  When one has progressed so far in life, one cannot help but be reminded… that is to say, one has been present at too many ceremonies of this kind in one’s life.  It is no slight to Miss Stephanie when I say I spent much of those hours recalling the too-small circle gathered years before to bury Master Jason, the motley assembly of circus folk at the funeral of John and Mary Grayson, the vast cross-section of professional, business, and social circles who mourned Dr. and Mrs. Wayne… and an equally diverse assemblage years before who paid respect at the grave of my father, Samuel Pennyworth. 

I am therefore unable to dwell as I should on the details of the formal observances this afternoon.  I can only report as I have done:  The guests arrived.  The service proceeded.  The buffet was eaten. 

Three persons sought me out for private conversation in the course of the afternoon.  The first was a Mr. Bart Allen, a young person of somewhat anxious disposition, although undoubtedly a dedicated hero.  I had noted him hanging about the back of the rooms, an area where I prefer to station myself in order to observe the guests unobtrusively.  He was standing alone, with his hands behind his back much of the time, flexing his shoulders in a fretful, fidgety manner.  Periodically, he would twist from side to side in the most curious fashion, and, on one of these occasions, I noticed that he held two fingers tightly in his right fist and would yank them in the most bizarre spasms of twitchy energy. 

I approached this young gentleman, as you might expect, to see if I could offer any assistance for his comfort.  

“You said your name is Pennyworth?” he asked me, for of course I had so identified myself when I admitted the guests previously unknown to me.  “And you’re the butler?”

I confirmed my name and function and repeated my offer to assist.  He replied with the most astonishing outburst:

“I don’t know what to do,” he began in a hurried, hushed tone.  “I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to say—to Tim, to Bruce, to anybody.”

“That is perfectly normal,” I assured him.  “Nobody truly knows what to say on these occasions.  All that is required is that you make this effort to show support to your friends and comrades.”

“No, I don’t think you understand, Pennydude.  This isn’t like everybody doesn’t know what to say; I really don’t know what to say—or do.  I’m not from here.  I’m from—I was never taught to do this.  I was raised by a virtual reality machine.  I don’t get the whole how you’re supposed to—”

“Piffle,” I told him—somewhat curtly, perhaps, but I confess I have limited patience with that particular type of excuse.  “All living souls are mystified and humbled at events of this kind, young man, and that confusion is in no way particular to those possessing whatever super powered piffle you were about to relate.  The ceremonies of life, if I may so phrase it, bring us together at such times despite our differences, because at such times the differences become irrelevant.”

“See, I’m from the 30th century—” he tried to interrupt.

Because,” I repeated more sternly, “Such differences become irrelevant.  We are all in the same boat:  mourning the loss of a fallen comrade and offering what support we can to an aggrieved friend.”

I paused, only to see if he would again attempt to voice his excuse.  When he did not, I continued.  “You will find your unease greatly lessened, young sir, if you find something to do with your hands. I would suggest walking to the buffet, picking up a plate, and placing a sandwich upon it.”

I was pleased with the result of this conversation, for young Mr. Allen most certainly made an effort to meet his social obligation for the remainder of the afternoon.  I was unaware I had made any impression beyond that until later, when most of the guests had left.  I was clearing plates from the buffet when Mr. Kent followed me back to the kitchen.

“That was nice work with Bart, Alfred.  He told Conner you were ‘more bat-dude than the bat-dude.’”

“A gratifying comparison to be sure, sir, although one cannot imagine in what context one might possibly…”

“He tried sneaking up on Batman once.  He was always doing things like that in the early days when he was Impulse.  He had a big magnifying glass with him, which caught a reflection off the moon, which Bruce noticed.  He ran off—the wrong way—and Bruce noted the draft in a direction the wind wasn’t blowing.  And then there was the smell—novice speedsters sometimes leak a little energy outside the SpeedForce they create, ionizing some of the air when they come to a stop.  You don’t need my senses to detect the smell of ozone.”

There was a brief hiatus at this point, as I had noticed Mr. Kent’s glance fall twice on a plate of sandwiches.  I moved it towards him, and he took one as he continued.

“So anyway, Bruce calls him on all of that without turning around.  Says he knows it’s a speedster back there, but it can’t be Flash because Flash would never insult his intelligence trying to sneak up behind him.  So it must be the young protégé, Impulse, either studying him or planning some ill-advised prank.  And whichever it is, it doesn’t matter; all that matters is that he be gone by the time Bruce turned around.  He was.”

Mr. Kent chuckled in an easy, knowing way.  His story in no way explained why I might be termed “more bat-dude than the bat-dude,” but I would not dream of embarrassing Mr. Kent by noticing the omission.  Instead, I offered him one of the remaining cutlets. 

“I see, sir,” I remarked, handing him the dish, “That is indeed most amusing.”

“It is, isn’t it?  It’d be awfully nice if Bruce could see that side of things.”  He took one of the cutlets onto his plate, then his tone changed abruptly.  “Alfred, I wanted to apologize for that, that awkwardness in the cave earlier.  That must have been very difficult for you.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“I don’t know what got into me mentioning Jason that way.  I guess I had some idea of being a shoulder, a helping hand, something like that—” 

“I understand fully, sir.  That desire to assist in whatever way one is able is, after all, the definition of a servant’s role.”

He seemed truly troubled by this and began poking at the cutlet as young Master Dick used to prod an unwanted vegetable. 

“I can’t understand that,” he said finally. “I just can’t, Alfred. I always think of you as more of a father figure around here.”

“If I may, sir,” I said, relieving him of the fork and cutlet, and presenting him with a fresh plate and a slice of shortbread.  “I submit that you are, perhaps, simply uncomfortable with the notion of domestic service—although I assure you it is a most dignified vocation—and in your discomfort, you perhaps seek to modify my role into something more familiar.”

He looked truly startled by this, and sensing I had put forth an idea which had not occurred to him, I felt encouraged to continue.

“Parenting instincts come into play, certainly, whenever one in a position of caring for a young person.  But it is folly to confuse one of the village that helps raise a child with being the actual parent.  Master Bruce had a father, and it would be presumptuous indeed to—”

I broke off because Mr. Kent had turned his head towards the kitchen door, and I saw now that it was not my discourse but something he overheard elsewhere in the house which had produced the startled look and which now claimed his full attention.  He closed his eyes and shook his head as a wide, disbelieving grin spread over his features.

“They really are perfect for each other,” he told me, then jolted upright a few seconds before the kitchen door swung open and Miss Selina marched in.

“I’m going to need a martini, a massage, and a mallet,” she announced. 

Mr. Kent’s eyes met mine and he mouthed the word “Bruce”—although super hearing was hardly necessary to guess the source of Miss Selina’s agitation. 

Mr. Kent soon departed the kitchen, saying he wanted a word with Master Tim before he left.  One gathers that the meeting did not proceed as he might have wished.  Indeed, while I know few of the particulars, I am left with the impression that Master Tim exchanged frank words with Mr. Kent, Miss Selina, Ms. Barbara, Ms. Lance, and Mr. Valley. 

It was Mr. Valley who alerted me to the situation.  He had, it appears, sought out Master Tim for a few private words of condolence and been rebuffed in terms less than courteous.  I hastened to remind him of the boy’s misery and he assured me that he fully understood. He had not, in fact, come to speak to me about Master Tim at all. 

“It’s Cassie,” he told me quietly.  “In all the concern for Tim, I don’t think anybody’s really noticed her.  She’s so quiet anyway.  She’s really torn up, poor kid.”

I had, of course, noticed that Miss Cassie displayed none of her usual hearty appetite, and I naturally attributed this to the sad business of the day.  I had not, I regret to say, thought to inquire further as Mr. Valley had.

“That bastard David Cain raised her to be an assassin, Alfred; an assassin and nothing else.  He brought her up to have no emotional attachments at all.  Death is the way of the warrior, theirs or yours, it’s all the same thing.  Even the Order of St. Dumas wasn’t that bad.  I mean, I was born, bred and programmed to be Azrael—but they still taught me to talk.  But what Cain did to that little girl…”

There was a short interruption as I handed Mr. Valley a glass of milk.  I had noticed he was clenching his fist in a troubling manner as he began speaking of the Order of St. Dumas, and I poured this refreshment so I might offer him one of those touches of normalcy that are so reassuring when one is distraught.

“Anyway,” he resumed while I offered a plate of scones, “She was brought up to have no emotional ties, but she jettisoned all that with the rest of Cain’s teachings when she became Batgirl.  She joined the human race—she found a family, she made a friend.  Now look what’s happened.”

“You fear, sir, that she might reject the principles of ‘joining the human race’ and resume her former… outlook?”

“Yeah.  I think she might do just that, Alfred.  I don’t know how she’s come this far, to tell you the truth.  The guilt, looking back on the things you did—I know what it’s like for me.  I can’t fathom how that little girl can possibly…  Some days, it just tears you up, knowing what you’ve done to people.  And now we add grief to the mix.  Yeah, I think she might give up on the whole idea of human feelings…” He paused then, as if considering his own words before adding,  “…I’m tempted myself.”

“Then I dare say, sir, that you might be best-equipped to speak to the young woman.”

“What! Me? No!  Alfred, I can’t do that.  I can’t talk to people about stuff like this.  I can’t talk to women at all half the time, and I sure can’t come off all ‘older and wiser than you are, young lady.’  You’ve got to do that!”

I was not swayed by this appeal.  I ventured to point out that Mr. Valley and I had been conversing on this subject for several minutes, so he was most certainly able to “talk to people about stuff like this.”  I suggested that our position in the kitchen had put him at greater ease, and recommended he bring Miss Cassie for a glass of milk and a plate of food.  He consented.  

Unfortunately, my duties obliged me to leave the kitchen just then to tend to the remaining party in the drawing room. But I trust that Mr. Valley and Miss Cassie had a very productive talk.  The remainder of the cutlets and scones were gone when I returned, along with a jug of milk and half a sponge cake. 

To be continued…


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