In which our heroine receives an uninvited advance…
The Hartsbinder Estate seemed even bleaker today. Daily custom had once been enough to varnish Millie’s longing with a surface of boredom and modest expectation. But there were also a few quiet sighs, breathed as one went about one’s day, which had, like a magic counter-cure, sufficed in keeping her true feelings alive. These alone, now, began to fill the days since she had returned from her London misadventure with Imago in her lap.
Since their return Imago had not been quick to re-adjust to the grounds either. He seemed to live in a flustered relationship of half-remembrance and full abhorrence to his surroundings: he flapped back and forth between Millie’s open window and the great Oak tree, pecking and scratching at the branches and letting out tiny croaks. She wondered whether he knew the place at all; whether he remembered anything from those days before the stone had burst his eye and knocked him out of the tree.
Sometimes he looked up to the sky, and his one eye blinked softly. Millie thought it was the ravens he wanted, for they hadn’t been seen since his fall. She stood in the garden, dwarfed by the Oak, and put her arm out for Imago. It was all he needed to come swooping straight down with a “FFFRRRRRRMPP!” Just then Millie heard a jolting footstep in the rustling leaves, and felt two eyes on the back of her head. It could be no other than Gunthar Hartsbinder, heir to the Hartsbinder Estate.
– “Hmmm, ja…wot lovely birdie has Frau Millie…a true Eve of the animals, a lady St. Francis of Assisi, mhm.”
The Hartsbinder family had been settled in Britain for at least three generations now, yet Gunther insisted on preserving the most preposterous accent in the name of heritage, which, he claimed, the “dear sweet ladies of the Isles” found quite exotic. Millie felt ill, swallowed, and turned. He was still nodding to his own “mhm” with his hand held up to his lips in the most feigned mannerism. It was clear that Imago’s caved socket had taken him aback, and yet he persevered.
– “What nice day have we today, Frau Millie, no?”
– “Good day Master Hartsbinder. I fear it is as grey and dreary as any day however – ”
Millie Immediately realised that she had only given him fodder for conversation, and she clenched her teeth in dread. Imago shifted his head towards Millie like a slowly turning bolt – she was very embarrassed. Meanwhile, Gunther Hartsbinder’s beaming face, had it been tolerable in the least, might have lit up the skies.
– “Ah, but Frau Millie, my dear Frau Millie, you must remember, always in your head of science and numbers that beauty, it is in the beholder and his eye….ah! To heck with this English subtlety! I can stand it no more Frau Millie!”
Gunther Hartsbinder snatched Millie’s hand, got down on one knee and wiped his pasty face with his handkerchief. Millie could feel a fever rising.
– “Master Hartsbinder, I beg you to rise…it, it…it does not become the future heir of the Hartsbinder Estate to kneel at the feet of the family doctor!” improvised Millie, panicking.
– “What does Gunther care for such proprieties! Tell me, Frau Millie, wouldst thou accompany a mad fool and a lover to a soirée tomorrow evening? Wouldst thou, Frau Millie, do your dear Gunther the honour of walking in on his arm?”
Millie was still revolted, yet deeply relieved to discover that Gunther’s proposal was of an altogether lesser sort than she had anticipated.
– “A soirée! Oh no Master Hartsbinder, I just couldn’t, it is far too short notice and I would have nothing at all to wear in such high company, and – ”
He put a finger to her lips.
– “Hush, Frau Millie dear, I shall clad thy fine English bosom in all the silks of Europe…Ah! It is settled then, my tailor is to be called at this time, oh, excuse my terrible English, at this very moment!”
He turned abruptly and skipped off to fetch the stableman’s son, leaving Millie and Imago looking quite out of tune.
– “Well, my dear Imago, it looks like I shall be escorted to a soirée.”
– “Quite right, “oh dear” indeed…”