The Anomaly: Part Two
Lisha did not know precisely what her imagination had set in store for Lockwood’s house, but she found it a great deal more comfortable than she had expected. It was also extremely large, and, she could see – despite the gloomy weather – very beautiful. It struck her as curious that he elected to spend so little time in it, but then Lockwood was so generally unpredictable and contradictory that she supposed there was no reason to be surprised.
At the moment, had she been inclined to be critical, she would have found herself quite sadly baffled; the view and situation were good, the windows set to best advantage, and the furniture most elegantly chosen and arranged. Fortunately she had no such aim and considered the house both lovely and welcoming.
It was made more so by Miss Lockwood, who was really very pleased to see both of them. “Harlan!” she exclaimed. “I had not the faintest idea that you were coming! – and Lady Borodere, I cannot express my delight! – but I am afraid we are sadly unprepared for you. Please, allow me to apologize –”
“Oh! That does not matter in the least,” Lisha assured her sincerely. “I can’t imagine what you would have done to be more prepared. This is a very handsome house.”
Cecilia laughed. “You must tell my brother that. I am sure he will be pleased, although he has never been partial to it himself.”
“It is handsome enough,” Lockwood replied lightly. “Rather too handsome for my taste. The truth is that I feel rather threatened by it; I would do much better with an extremely modest house to set off my person.”
“I can see he is being ridiculous,” she told Lisha with a smile. “I hope I may induce you to sit down and to take a meal – I am sure you must both be very tired and cold.”
Lisha was somewhat relieved to hear that Cecilia, in private conversation with Lockwood, did address him by his given name; and she thought she had rarely seen Cecilia so glowing. It occurred to her that perhaps Cecilia’s happiness was a reaction to Lockwood’s uncharacteristically good mood; whatever the case, she was pleased to see the pretty white Ixi so unreserved.
“Thank you,” she replied, seating herself. “You are very kind.”
“I suppose it would be best,” Lockwood proposed, “to send out a servant with orders for the coachman – assuming that you wish to stay the night here, that is. Of course if you find the idea of leaving him out all night appealing, we may adjust our plans accordingly.”
Lisha agreed (to his first statement, rather than his second) and it was done immediately. They had somehow contrived to take up a great deal of time with their business that day, and it was growing quite dark by the time that they were presented with a sincerely welcome hot meal; she ate quickly and Cecilia, perceiving she was tired, showed her to a room and left her to her own devices.
Cecilia returned downstairs to find Lockwood finishing his dinner and looking rather colder and less pleased than he had earlier. When he saw her, however, he attempted a smile; it had a touch of sadness in it, and perhaps even a touch of guilt. “Would a short walk suit you?” he inquired.
She was rather taken aback by the request, and in fact would much have preferred to carry on their conversation indoors, but she acquiesced readily. “Although it is very good to see you wishing for exercise,” she remarked, “I confess myself rather surprised at it.”
“Even I am obliged to step outside occasionally,” he replied sweetly and, she suspected, not altogether seriously. “I would be excessively sorry to lose my figure.”
Cecilia, observing the elegantly slender black Gelert in his marvelous dark grey suit, did not think that this sounded very likely. She decided to let the point alone, however, and they ventured out into the cold, bleak grounds. “Do you feel at all improved since last week?”
“Oh dear! not in the least. I cannot possibly express how much I have suffered. Yesterday I experienced a cough; the day before, a sore throat; in short, symptoms alarmingly synonymous with those of a cold.”
She smiled despite herself. “By which I imagine you are trying to tell me that you feel reasonably well.”
“Not in the least; you have misunderstood me. I would not criticize you for the world, sister dear, but I merely meant to express to you that you do a great deal of worrying. You should abandon your selfless ways and follow my model, which is far more convenient – general vanity and total lack of concern for others.”
She thought, despite his apparent good humor, that he did not seem absolutely happy, and so she decided to be serious. “I am sure your mode of conduct is not at all characterized by vanity,” she retorted loyally; then, regarding his full flawless length for a moment or two, smiled slightly and compromised: “At least, shall I say, it is not governed by vanity.”
Lockwood returned her smile with a rather arch specimen of his own. “You need not make excuses for me; I am perfectly capable of doing that for myself. No – I would just as soon be accused of vanity as of anything else.” He turned away for a moment and she suspected that he was not really attending to the conversation at all.
Cecilia fell silent for a moment as well; she wished to introduce the subject of her magical education (for she had requested to learn from him some weeks earlier) but knew not how to present it without appearing terribly forward and self-indulgent. He had, after all, a great many more pressing matters to concern himself with, and she had no wish to distract him.
Fortunately Lockwood was so obliging, after a tentative pause, as to breach the subject himself. “I... have not forgotten what you asked, and of course nothing would please me better than to instruct you in any way I can, though I am afraid that I will not have much time in the very near future.”
“Oh! – it does not signify,” cried Cecilia, who was in truth so overwhelmed by gratitude at his affirmative that she hardly cared for the specifics. “I was afraid that you would think... oh, I hardly know what I was afraid of; only that it seemed so very...”
“I fear for you, and additionally for myself,” said Lockwood, with the shadow of his ironic smile. “Your unselfishness is rather unsettling, for I cannot help wondering what is to become of you in this world; and I will surely experience some alarm when I consider how my conduct must fare in any comparison with yours. Therefore I will not trouble myself to apologize.”
Cecilia was both familiar with Lockwood’s sense of humor, and sensible of the serious feeling that must lie behind even so indirect an apology. “Do not think of it until you are absolutely unoccupied, I beg of you. I have no intention of interfering with your work.”
“So I must wait until I am absolutely unoccupied! I am afraid you will be in an unhappy state of suspense for a very long while. Of course if you should ever consent to my teaching you when I am merely at my leisure, then we will get on much faster. In fact we may get on remarkably fast, for I am often at my leisure.”
“You must not make fun of me,” she said with a laugh. “I am very serious. Now, shall we turn back? If you have had a cold I would not like you to catch another, and I am sure you must be tired. – What brought you here, in any case?”
“Some trifling issue or other; it may interest you, however, as it concerns our dear friend Mr. Daley.”
“Mr. Henry Daley?” she exclaimed in disbelief. He explained, and she was as amused as he had anticipated.
“It is almost inconceivable. I cannot imagine how such a thing would have happened! I wonder if he is telling the truth?” She paused for a moment. “Are you going to go talk to Reynard, then?”
“I do not know. Despite the immense love I bear him, I have an odd feeling that he will not be best pleased to see me – to say nothing of what the Countess will feel on that happy occasion! They would do just as well to forgive me; I have no wish to inherit his precious title. I hope he lives for a remarkably long time.”
“Well,” Cecilia ventured, “the property is worth having, and I think you would make an excellent Earl of Harcourt; but as for Reynard! – All the same, if you feel that you possibly can, I believe you should go.”
“You need not attempt to persuade me,” said Lockwood. “I am sure that Lisha will make me go; and in any case, my objections are slight.”
As they had arrived back at the house, Cecilia excused herself and went to bed; and Lockwood, weary from the events of the previous night, followed suit despite the fact that it was only one o’clock.
Just as Lockwood had predicted, Lisha was absolutely insistent the following morning upon going to question the Earl about what had happened. She caught Lockwood at his dressing table to tell him so.
“You truly wish to?” he asked rather unhappily, tying his cravat.
Lisha watched in no small degree of fascination as he expertly arranged the pale blue silk with his elegantly gloved hands; but she tore her eyes away and persisted. “Oh, really – as if we can forget all about it without investigating. It could be dangerous!”
“It is always possible to ask Mr. Daley for a fuller account,” Lockwood suggested half-heartedly.
Lisha crossed her arms in exasperation. “What a wonderful idea! Aside from being unbearable, if he really was possessed then how in Neopia is he supposed to remember it?”
“Do not ask me,” he replied. “I do not pretend to know anything about it. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me whether Henry Daley committed any sort of magical crime and whether he will be punished for it or not.”
“I find it nothing short of amazing how you can be so heartless,” she snapped. She reflected, however, that he had after all consented to go with her; and, furthermore, that he often said things he did not mean. Therefore she left him to prepare in peace and began attempting to imagine what Lockwood’s cousin might be like.
To be continued...