Sunday, October 28, 2007

It was not my intent, when I first made the acquaintance of Mr. Abel, to pay him any particular notice.

He had much to recommend him as a friend: an infectiously cheerful, friendly demeanor, a willingness to dance wherever music or room could be found (and perhaps with only one of these two necessities), and an ability to render me lightheaded with laughter at his writing.

It seemed a happy thing in itself to have such a friend, and I did not wish for anything more, or regret the circumstances which removed the possibility of more. Even laying everything aside, which I never could have done, he seemed at the time to be... dare I acknowledge, not the sort of man to inspire those sorts of feelings in me? We met infrequently, though I had occasion once or twice to be gladder for the comfort of his presence than I could explain. Sometimes one kind word from someone not an utter stranger is enough, and Mr. Abel has nothing but kind words, it seems... I didn't feel so presumptuous asking him.

How peculiarly difficult it is to write this evening! The words don't want to come, but beg me to let them rest where they lie, unspoken and safe from all threat of being misused or regretted. I suppose this means I fear the risk of saying nothing more than the risk of speaking. If he weren't so patient...

Recently- and can I really mean by that vague word only the last few weeks? It feels ages longer- but only recently did he begin to seek my company more. No one else was claiming it any longer, and so I wondered what could be the danger? None to him, anyway. I enjoyed what friendship was given, and gave thanks for it, treating the idea of an exchange of affections as the impossibility it seemed. It was pleasant to dance and flirt and laugh and not, for a little while, care so much about whether I was cared for.

But it happened that the impossible became possible. We've spoken very little as to how, in part because I fear to ask. The timing of it all tries my belief in coincidences, but it was explained as though it were a decision made before the question of my interest was even raised... and that suffices because I want it to. If I found it were otherwise, I'm not sure what I'd do.

So it happens that I find myself, unexpectedly... happy? Lord help me. Let me not wake up and find there's been a mistake, that this gift was addressed to me in error. I don't want to give it back.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My association (I cannot properly call it courtship, for it never really was) with Mr. Gryffin Hax is finished. Before it ever had a chance to actually begin, and perhaps I should be glad for that- at least, that is how I intend to view it, once the hurt has subsided. Cautiousness has its uses. At least I can be perfectly confident that I have given him no injury. It's strange, I had thought there was something worth pursuing... but he didn't. And that, apparently, is that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I happily interrupt declension of the past imperfect for matters more current- namely, the rather unfortunate mistake I've made in assuring the representative of the Imperial Navy of Caledon that Middlesea had no plans to form an independent fleet. It is in fact the heart of the error, rather than the excuse, to say that I did not know about it. While I had effectively turned over decisions on those matters to another, it always remained my responsibility to stay properly informed, and I have grown shamefully lax. I have offered my apologies to Commodore Trenton, who first approached me on the matter, and am prepared to do so for the others, if it should be necessary. The fault is entirely upon me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What delight to discover in the Friday post an invitation from the Dowager Lady Soliel Snook and Commodore Sputnik to take tea with the appointed chaperones of the Caledon Season- and what immediate disappointment when I realized I would not be able to attend. Not even in Caledon, by the time the appointed hour came around, and so there was little point in regretting. I did hurry back for the introductory ball yesterday afternoon, arriving, despite my best efforts, a little worse than halfway through. The anxiety of locating and fitting a suitable dress really did turn out to be wasted, for I stayed no more than half an hour in the hall itself. I could hardly tell you why. After I had bid everyone good evening, and made some halfhearted attempt at conversation with a few similarly unoccupied guests, I found myself gripped by a curious lack of feeling. Like boredom, but without any logical source- more as if I could not engage myself with what was happening around me. Irritated at myself and not a little uncomfortable in my debutante's gown, I curtsied my way through the crowd and slipped out.
Fortunately for me, her Grace of Carntaigh has some very fine trees. I slipped off my shoes and clambered up. The apples were not quite ripe, so I did not disturb them, but I'm not sure I can say the same for the squirrels.

The windows of the hall were partly ajar, I think, to admit fresh air, and through them I kept time with the orchestra and with the conversation of the dancers, the pleasant rumble punctuated frequently with a giggle or an exclamation from one of the girls in response to some inaudible remark. I began to wonder rather seriously whether I were not being foolish to think that I ought to join them, not merely that night, but every night of the Season. Their Graces were, as ladies will be, gracious enough to accept me despite my warning them of my unsuitability. If I do not go forward, what options are there for me? I'm not mature or experienced or accomplished enough to serve as a Caledon hostess, and would rather forgo society altogether than hover anonymously upon the outskirts of it as if I were afraid. That is one thing, thank Heaven, I am not.
And still, this ridiculous hesitation... but I seem to be hesitating in every area just now, not merely this. So many things lie so near at hand that I can almost feel them brushing against my fingertips, but I demur, ready yet reluctant to grasp them. I know nothing waits forever, and still...
My back and other places were growing quite numb against the tree's hard limb by the time the music of the eleventh set began, but I waited, stubborn and unwilling to leave entirely until the other guests had said their goodnights to each other. I stopped to laugh at myself- and memory supplied the echo of another's laughter, which mingled strangely with mine until I remembered... six years old, on that last unclouded summer, and my mother sending my oldest brother to find and fetch me, which he always could better than anyone else. He knew as the others did not that I hid only for the delight of being found, and knowing it, how he teased me, standing beneath my tree and shaking its trunk (he was past sixteen and strong as a young giant) to hear me shriek with terror and delight. For our grandmother had arrived, accompanied by a veritable caravan of gifts- my sister's wedding was mere weeks off- a surprise arrival, and all I knew was that there would be company for dinner and I didn't wish to have my hair curled. "Little idiot," he called- such was his pet name for me because I willfully escaped our tutors and the classroom at every opportunity- "little idiot, come down from there. Don't you know you're only harming yourself?" Of course I didn't know; I seldom do. In the end he carried me down as I had intended. How much for granted did I take his patience, his strong arms, his caring, his very presence! How much I would exchange for the chance to hear his scolding now. Last night I climbed down by myself as the last of the orchestra's music died away, the three days of sleeplessness slamming into me as suddenly as if I'd lost my grip and fallen to the ground. My own reproaches will have to serve, however inadequately; grown up too soon, I believe in some ways I've failed to do so at all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Changes in the preceding weeks have brought their expected allotment of pain and enjoyment. Though delight and gratitude can still overwhelm me, and thoughtlessness or unkindness still prick me, I grow weary and restless. I feel much like an old actor continually cast in the same part: new faces and phrases around me repeating well-worn patterns, and I undoubtedly doing the same to some of them. Will I ever be surprised at anything ever again? Never mind novelty for novelty's sake- it's substance that seems to elude me.

What does not escape my notice is the selfish aspect of my desires. Certainly, I took my work seriously- this isn't a matter of a lack of teas to attend or jewels to acquire or serfs to exploit (if one has time to study Marx amongst frivolous social obligations), but one grows accustomed to responsibility. I was not banished, and I could return- could even have my council post again, for after my example, I hear with a somewhat vengeful pleasure that they cannot fill it. I could be endlessly useful again. I could also throw myself into a particularly conveniently placed volcano, and therein make an equal sacrifice by a less painful method. Neither truly appeals, but the shadow of my old ambition follows me far.

Additionally, though it seems thoroughly ridiculous to feel ill at ease for lack of conflict, the fact is that I've never forged a friendship that was not based at least partly upon a shared enemy, or the binding of wounds physical or otherwise. The idea that polite conversation can create bonds of any real strength is an utterly new concept to me, and my ineptness in this area is reflected quite clearly in my lack of intimate friends. Then, too, such a history gives rise to a certain amount of what used to be healthy wariness, but now feels more like paranoia. Always before, I could count upon some awful event to shatter a period of calm. I keep waiting for what I had accepted as a child as a fundamental fact of life, and how does one unlearn that? I was wrong, before; the dreams have not lessened, but increased, and if I did not know his conscience to have been reawakened since our quarrel last year, I would suspect them of having been sent deliberately by an old friend.

The fault, of course, lies in myself-- to write otherwise would be ungrateful and wrong. The panmilitary O'Toole remains a ready and delightful subject for occasional expressions of flirtatious energy, and I have some hopes of knowing the (Right Honorable) Lord Bardhaven and Mr. Welinder better. I wasn't certain that they gained a favorable impression of what they politely term my wit, but they both offered their hand in friendship, so... perhaps. And then of course my neighbor, Mr. G. Hax, whom I find excellent company but occasionally difficult to predict; I do not know what to hope there. Last but hardly least, Mr. Abel, who seems as genuinely kind a man as I have met, not to mention hilariously inventive, has been very welcoming.

Beginning again, even with such prospects, is daunting enough. But the simple truth is that, for all my wariness, I had never really planned to be alone. I never truly have, for good or ill, been without a father or guardian or tutor or husband. I might have (and at times, have been) glad to become independent of them, but not of my last, the only one I chose for myself. It is this, above all, that renders me unfit or at least unreliable company. When around others, I throw off my sadness as I cast off my black gowns- but I always return to it, and how often later do I condemn myself for each laugh or lighthearted phrase? How often do I wonder why I should even care whether I have friends, when I'm not even certain of my right to live in a world where he does not?

I made the mistake of referring to this, vaguely, to Mr. Abel some weeks ago, and found myself in a position of being completely unable to answer when he asked if I had lost a companion recently. "Something like that," I replied, quite stupidly. For once it was neither reserve nor a desire to guard my secrets. It was and is a simple inability to express it aloud. Where does one begin to speak of such a thing, a loss that was less a death than an amputation? I feel there's little benefit to learning. It is a wound I don't think I want to heal, for to grieve less would be a disloyalty I do not wish to consider.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Les deux grenouilles d'Eyre

On my very first walk through the glorious old woods of Eyre, I was stopped short by a very tiny, yet most authoritative croak.

Proof positive that I am not the only frog of any sort to inhabit the corner of Caledon that will soon be my home. Francois, though in size the least of my new neighbors, promises to become a very near friend, as the stream he inhabits winds its way through the forest down an incline from my land, and it appears to be a spot excellently suited for swimming and bathing. I sincerely hope he will not object. People's opinions I can disregard at will; animals', never.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

(Several days old, obviously!)

The meeting of Mssrs. Somme and Drinkwater upon the field of honor was an event to which I had particularly been looking forward. Not only was it not a ball (as previously mentioned, I've not had especially good luck with those recently,) but it was a duel of the sort nearest to my heart- one of wits, of words, and specifically- of haiku.

I had what I now understand to be the very rare pleasure, a few years ago, to engage in this exact form of combat with a beloved friend of mine, a gentleman of marvelous imagination and linguistic skill, M. Hask. I admit that I had been expecting something at least as bloody as my friendly battles with him at the duel yesterday evening, but found myself disappointed in that sole respect. Politeness seemed the rule of the day (and indeed I begin to wonder if the unspoken motto of Caledon is 'Live civilly or... well, please do, anyway?')- and except for some light insults against the combatants' respective families, the two haikuelists were disturbingly well-behaved. I was slightly put out.

But, considering the size of the audience, it was not a great shock, and I must learn to remember that Caledonians, on the whole, are not a bloodthirsty breed, even and perhaps most especially when pride takes the place of actual flesh. I do not think I can wish them otherwise. Certainly, it is a quieter sort of life that I lead now, but so free of care that I am drawn to it nonetheless. I have had very few dreams of any sort since I arrived here, and for that, I am glad.

I do the two gentlemen a disservice, however, to express only what I found lacking, for it was such a small part of the evening's experience that I could easily have never mentioned it at all- except that a person may, I believe, do as they bloody well like in their own diary. Yes? Quite. Now, completely leaving out the physical impressiveness of M. Somme and M. Drinkwater (and their seconds, if one's inclined to be thorough,) because I bore even myself sometimes with admiration, I was in all other respects happily surprised. Both displayed a fine degree of ability, and the result was fluent and cohesive. From experience, I know only too well that delivering a perfect haiku under pressure is rather more difficult than it first sounds, but errors were few. Whom- that is, what-ever the original argument was that inspired this battle, it was transcended by the patriotic zeal of the competitors, and the genuine benefit which will come of it.

There was little occasion for chatting with the other observers, since we kept noise to a minimum apart from some good-natured heckling and encouragement, but I did exchange a few words with O'Toole once he discovered me seated directly behind him. I could hardly help the location- it was the only seat left available in the first row. And, with such a view as this presented of the perpetually amusing Colonel throughout the duel, I could likewise hardly help teasing the man a bit when it was over. He endured it well.

If he were another sort of fellow, I should have qualms, but he seems in no danger. The more... interesting... a man's reputation, the safer he is as a target for a woman's harmless attentions- provided there isn't another woman with an even worse reputation than his laying exclusive claim to him. He provides an excellent focus until one learns the way of things and can tell just how much flirting is tolerated, and with whom. It is simply necessary, especially in a land of pervasive politeness. My tongue lacks a whetstone and, I fear, grows excessively dull.

After the event, a few of us strayed to the Falling Anvil and he remembered kindly to invite me along, but once there, I'm afraid I disappointed even myself. The talk centered upon the recent werewolf encounters, and apart from a murmured condolence to the lovely Miss Maertens whom I understood to have actually been confronted by the creature, I sat there like a sodden lump while my mind contemplated the properties of silver. It has several fascinating, even incendiary forms... but, as I had no specifically useful advice to offer at the time, I stayed silent and meditated.

Not too much so that I did not take notice of the other two gentlemen there, both encouragingly appealing, the elder of the two, M. Susenko, in particular. He has a look about him which reminds me of my Grigori.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Think I'm finally out of tears. The trick is to stop drinking water and substitute hard liquor; this makes the leaking go away. All Grieg's fault. He started me off, Mozart and Tchaikovsky exacerbated it (although I did myself no good by choosing Le Nozze di Figaro and Nochevala Tuchka Zolotaya and the String Quartet No. 1) and by the time Beethoven strode into the room to the sounds of his magnificent 5th Concerto, I was lost. They all ought to be lined up and shot, spiteful ... *illegible*

And so when a woman is worked into such a state by a handful of miserable old men, what is her remedy? When, 'desolate and sick of an old passion' or twelve, she finds her circumstances so desperate that she starts on the really old brandy, not just the reserve stuff but the bottles older than she is that she's been saving for Lord knows what, what is she, an otherwise sober and rational woman to do?

She's to bloody well go and buy herself the largest, most glittery rock she can find and hang it off whatever protrusion seems available and appropriate.

Damn right she is.
Occasionally some of the answers can be so ridiculously obvious that one cringes when one stumbles across them. I was visiting a number of shops in pursuit of a comfortable new chair for my desk- not that I have a desk, currently, either, or in fact much furniture at all- but one has to start somewhere. But suddenly, as I passed model room after model room, I became aware that there was one particular element that kept repeating. That element was those combinations of black boxes that on the continents pass for phonographs. And it came to me- why should I not be lonely, when I have packed the voices and sounds that were, until a few months ago, my daily intimate companions, into boxes to rot! For, having nothing upon which to play them, I have not taken out a single record since my arrival. I forgot all ideas of buying a chair and hurried as quickly as I could to find someone who could tell me where I might buy a proper player.

I stopped first in a place called Tranquility Gardens, where I was charmed by their modest offering, which was nicely crafted and so very inexpensive that I ordered one immediately. Then on to Twist and Mila Designs, which, although it was a very fine shop overall and I might return for some of their other items, did not tempt me. Their gramophone was just somewhat plain, and not very different from the one I had just purchased. Since I don't currently require its additional features, I passed. Heading on to Deckard & Quinn, I was hoping to find what I was looking for there because it seems natural to support Caledon and its residents as much as I can. Their meticulously-crafted phonograph was extremely impressive, but I have so few cylinders that it wouldn't be put to much use. Also, the stain of the wood case wasn't to my liking. I may change my mind and go back for it later, however.

Having more or less escaped unscathed thus far, my purse was not so lucky at the next shop. Serendipity Studios proved its excellent reputation to me the moment I entered l'Opera Populaire with its dazzling foyer and famous chandelier. That sort of excess in design isn't usually my taste, although I am aware that it is a replica, and one can admire the artisanship in any case. And the gramophones... absolutely luscious. Sometime, when I have a home large enough to accommodate all three, I will go back and buy the other two, but for now I am more than contented with my selection, the richly coloured 'Jewel of Morocco'. In fact I could probably not be more in love with it.

Arriving home, I unpacked it as quickly as I could, setting it up on a bench because I don't even have a proper stand sturdy enough to hold it yet. Dragging out one of my boxes of records from beneath the bed, I tore off the lid and pulled out the first disc I touched without even bothering to look at the cover. In retrospect, I'm probably quite fortunate that chance did not land me with a copy of the planktology lecture I attended last summer.

Instead, my little room slowly filled with the plaintive sweetness of some unknown, pure-voiced Norwegian soprano performing Solveig's Song as Grieg had first meant for it to be- sung- with such an honesty of expression that I had to sit down immediately before I ended up in a tangle on the rug. I do not speak the language, but I had the pleasure of seeing the play performed in Kristiania once with a friend who did, and it never fails to affect me. It is the song of anyone who dares against hope and reason to love someone unworthy. Sometimes the waiting is in vain; sometimes, unbeknownst, they are indeed waiting for you where you can't yet go to join them. Would I still had such faith as Ibsen's heroine that death were no separation.
Most habits have not changed much, though differences in place and time would alter them in little ways. They keep me, I think, on balance, which should not be too surprising. Rituals are so large a part of what defines us.

I would not for the world give up one of my greatest pleasures in it- a solitary walk at the start or close of day upon some empty stretch of beach- but I think sometimes that it is even better for me to have it interrupted, as it was last evening. I had wandered out to the eastern end of Primverness, and was turning from the shore in preparation to trudge home for the night when the sound of engines filled the air above me. I ducked down- in these interesting times one never knows who might be interested in putting a bullet in you- and waited until they passed.

As the machines, one winged and one a propeller-driven balloon, made a slow turn about, I was to my great relief able to just make out the face of Miss V. Tombola. And from the other, as they stalled to peer down at me for a moment, called out the voice of Colonel O'Toole, cheerfully wishing me a good day. I shouted back, but I believe the machines' sounds drowned me out.

After a little while, they landed and I headed down from the peak from which I had been watching. Others, with whom I am less familiar, joined them, and it was explained that they would be practicing flight formations in preparation for some possible battle with the Neualtenburgers...

...a battle which perhaps might not have been strictly necessary had it not been for the Colonel's (in)famous abduction of their Kaiserin. Of course, I have only my interpretation of the story, and since I speak to practically no one, it's a very ignorant one.

Only... I have thought that in the Colonel's case that it's an enormous shame; he being, without a doubt, an intelligent man. An appealing one, even. If only it were not, as it seems, nearly always the case that those gentlemen who do possess a bit of fire in their blood must, perhaps in response to the restraints of the society they inhabit, display it in ways that are not always in keeping with the law or custom of the land. And if only I were not habitually falling in love with them.

It is impossible not to think of these things, especially when the average gentleman here, it seems, not only does not mind standing idle while there are ladies not dancing, but will even refuse a very strong hint or blatant invitation to dance with you. It makes the men of my past acquaintance seem positively brutal... not altogether incorrect, but on the whole, I enjoyed it.

It would be stupid, from what I have heard, to think of Colonel O'Toole- or practically any other man in Caledon- in this way, so enough. Hearts can be very boring things, if one can study them objectively enough to observe the repetitive patterns. And offering mine to someone at the moment would be like handing them a bag of broken glass. Utterly useless and undeniably unkind.

To call an exhibition of military strength a diversion is somewhat distasteful, so I won't, but I was in fact diverted from such thoughts by the appearance of the militia. Watching these marvelous machines, soaring high as gracefully as any birds, it was all too easy to forget that they are exalted weapons and that there is a very real possibility that the beauty that delighted me today may bring sorrow and pain to another tomorrow. The way of all things, and yet it has been some time since I admired something that promised to bring harm to someone else. I stayed the night to watch them, meditating upon this.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I am a vessel without course or chart. Cast completely from my moorings, I float, aimless. The storms that brought me to such a state are far behind me, but still I seek the shelter of a port where I might come to rest. This journal will serve as the log of my wanderings- and hopefully of their end.
As I write this, curled up on the end of the shabby couch in my temporary quarters, I am utterly alone. It is not for the first time, but it is the most complete. There is not now a soul upon whom I could depend; at least, not truly, and it's useless to count those who might offer in a moment of ill-considered kindness without having the desire or capability to follow through. And then there are those- few, thankfully- who have desire and capability and the right of it, too, but for whose dear sakes I would never accept. My pen would name them, but my eyes won't permit it. They water so disloyally despite my orders to the contrary. What control I once exerted over them seems lost now that no one else is near enough to notice. What of it, then?
In strictly material terms, my situation is fairly stable. Only a fool would fail to find some comfort in that. But it appears certain that I have resources sufficient to enable me to be able to live comfortably, if modestly, anywhere in the world I might choose to settle, and to allow me some entry into society. Assuming I can find it.
I had no idea, no inkling at all, when I made my choice to begin again alone, that I would be subjecting myself to the most profound loneliness I believe I've ever experienced. Perhaps I could not imagine it. There's always been something before- but then, I had faith, too, before. Now I feel as though I would happily part with a pound or two of flesh if only I might have one of my more worthy enemies near me to plague me out of this pathetic self-pity. Or that I would squander my reputation and my pride in order to feel the fundamental reassurance of another's touch. Anyone's touch. Fresh sensations to replace months and years-old memories both wondrous and horrific, which the mind, given no better food to sustain it, gnaws as tirelessly as a dog at a bone, slavering over the mere recollection of the taste.
I have one desire for this journal: that the emptiness which I have described be overwritten by new experiences just as surely as the blank pages contained herein are covered by the rambling patterns of ink I employ to chronicle what follows.