Richard's Story: The Second Part

The next morning at the office, Richard tried not to notice Phillip(a)’s soft, husky voice; her elegant long-fingered hands; her generous smile.

She said, “The Pellon and Lord Simon inspections are next on the docket.”

“Lord Simon’s mansion is as ruined as the man.”

“Trulfet Architecture. His fantastical era.”

“Not Truflet's best work. Why does a belief in fairies automatically entail a penchant for curlicues?”

“Visual improbabilities,” Phillip(a) said and grinned outright.

Richard tried to also ignore that grin.

“I have my weekly meeting with Lord Rustilion,” he said. “Can you meet me at the Pellons?”

“I should track down the deeds for Lord Simon’s house.”

“You won’t go there?”

Lord Simon was an aged rake, still capable to producing scandal, definitely not safe. He would see through Phillip(a)’s disguise.

“No—Government Library.” Phillip(a) raised her eyebrows at Richard’s stony expression.

“Good. We’ll visit Lord Simon’s together,” he added, turning away. It was a natural directive, not rooted in over-protectiveness. Not at all.

“Have a pleasant chin-wag with Lord Rustilion,” Phillip(a) said in a singing voice.

Richard had to laugh. His director, Lord Rustilion, held his office by virtue of his social position: an aristocrat, yet he supported the New Government. He even defended Richard’s department. He just didn’t see the necessity. Richard’s activities appeared to puzzle him.

“Why is the Pellon property important?”

“It might not be,” Richard said. “The Pellon family can’t afford to maintain it.”

Lord Rustilion pondered that statement. He said doubtfully, “I guess the house is old.”

Richard said carefully, “Old doesn’t automatically bestow historical worth.”

“Hmmm.” Lord Rustilion pushed over cream and sugar, and Richard prepared his obligatory cup of tea. Every meeting with Lord Rustilion involved tea. The ritual gave the man something to focus on when his questions faltered.

“So why evaluate it?”

“It does have ties to King Erick’s reign.”

“Ah.”

“The land could possibly be transferred, in future, to the Commons Project.”

“Yes, yes. You, ah, have interest there?”

“Sure,” Richard said, not quite shrugging. The Commons Project—a proposal to set aside land for public agricultural use—was the latest burning issue in committee meetings. Every time Richard got cornered by some overeager clerk or ambitious fellow functionary, the first question or comment was always, "Are you involved in Com-P?” “So-and-so got asked to do a paper for Minister Yuppe—” one of the heads, along with Lord Rustilion, of the Commons Project.

Richard glanced at his notes. “As for Lord Simon’s property—”

“That man is unstable,” Lord Rustilion said abruptly, and Richard said, “Yes, yes, he is, but he has supporters among the ministers.”

“Hmm.” This time, Lord Rustilion’s hmmm sounded digusted.

Lord Rustilion was a true New Government man. He retained his title almost absently, being otherwise utterly modern and forward thinking. Despite his blank moments, he was a preferable director to others in the ministry. Most of the time.

“Lord Rustilion wants things to be simple,” Phillip(a) explained as she and Richard stood in a folly on the Pellon grounds, dressed in thick overcoats and tall hats. The property had been landscaped by Peder Vaughn, a factor of slightly more import than the house’s age. Not much, however—Vaughn had been a minor landscaper at best.

“He could make things simple,” Richard said. “It’s the paperwork complicates our job.”

“The bureaucrats have been around longer than the New Government.”

“God help us.”

Phillip(a) laughed and turned to study the property’s flower gardens. Richard turned with her. The winter gardens, empty of flowers at this time of the year, were overgrown with shrubs. Of course, the inability to maintain the gardens was one reason the Pellons hoped for a historical designation.

“Live in comfort for the rest of their lives,” Richard said, finishing the thought.

“The grounds would be open to the public.”

“The public would prefer the gardens be razed.”

“The Manderley Brothers would prefer the land be put up for sale.”

Richard shrugged. Phillip(a) said with bland coyness, “Though it would improve the ministers' tempers if the land ended up under their purview.”

He didn’t see how anyone could see her has anything but female.

* * *

“Pellon would make a lovely addition to the Antiquities Registry,” Gloria said at Mrs. Fertaff's soiree that evening.

Even if they'd been in relative privacy (Gloria never kept company with Richard alone), Richard wouldn't have contradicted her. He’d learned through experience that Gloria despised even good-natured disagreement. Early in their engagement, he had tried to provoke Gloria into argument: Give me your reasons. I’ll give you mine.

Gloria had pursed her lips and spoken slightingly of “male manners.” (When Richard’s sister argued with her, Gloria sniffed about “a lack of proper decorum.” Andrew never tried to argue. Mother just chattered over her.)

Gloria’s pronouncements were exactly and precisely pronouncements.

"Pity the Pellons aren't here. You could reassure them."

Richard would never do such a thing--it would be highly inappropriate to inform a petitioner of a historical designation before Richard had even completed the initial inspection. The Pellons being absent, the issue was moot, so he ignored Gloria and intercepted Bertram Fells, a functionary in the Department of Public Works, with a question about easement law.

Richard would prefer to carry out work discussions at work.  He would also prefer to spend his evenings at home. Attending tedious evening parties during the week was the price for serving in the ministry. Not to mention, it was an easy way to keep Gloria in an affable mood. She and her frozen-faced maid had fetched Richard in the Cartwright carriage that evening. He couldn't yet afford one, and Gloria hated to arrive in a hired coach.

She would be bringing one of the family coaches with her to the marriage. It would be a useful convenience.

"Lord Rustilion." Gloria had waylaid Richard's boss. Richard sighed and left Bertram--who grinned broadly and winked--to stand at Gloria's shoulder.

"How you must appreciate my fiancé's hard work," Gloria was saying, a deceptively light hand on her quarry's arm, while Lord Rustilion, looking more somnolent than usual, harrumphed. "I feel so privileged to be engaged to someone with so much potential."

Lord Rustilion blinked and gave Richard an unexpectedly sharp glance. Richard gazed back, trying to not too obviously detach himself from Gloria's effusiveness.

"We are lucky to have him," Lord Rustilion said finally.

Gloria's good-natured expression seemed to thicken and solidify as Lord Rustilion strolled away. "It's about time he recognized your abilities," she said softly, her hand now on Richard's sleeve.

"I've only been in his department for five months."

"Five months is long enough for a person's value to reveal itself."

“He admires my reports,” Richard said dryly.

Irony and other forms of wit bypassed Gloria.

“At least he doesn’t hold your sister against you.”

Richard frowned. His sister Aubrey had married a policeman, Mr. Charles Stowe, the Head of the Police, in fact. Charles had helped Aubrey when she’d been bespelled over a year earlier. Richard liked the man whose calm temper made him impervious to even Gloria’s snubs.

Gloria had been outraged by the marriage and for a few days, Richard had hoped, hoped too much, that she would call off the engagement.

She didn’t. “You’re too good a catch,” Aubrey had told Richard, but Richard doubted Gloria saw him as more than fodder for her plans for married life. Aubrey herself was the complication. She’d married “down,” but her bespellment had made her someone to whom even the Academy magicians showed deference.

Richard said now, “Stevenson—” the Academy’s Acting Head “—admires my sister.”

Gloria stiffened, eyes at half-mast. Displeased.

“I don’t think Lord Rustilion is a proponent of magical potions,” she said tightly.

Richard wasn’t either. His sister hadn’t asked to be bespelled.

Gloria’s bosom heaved. But Richard had social endorsement, and the current social backdrop of chattering nabobs, on his side; Gloria relaxed fractionally. “What a kind brother you are.”

Richard nodded vaguely and set himself to exchange innocuous comments with fellow bureaucrats and deliver general compliments to posturing ministers. He set aside thoughts of Phillip(a)’s unselfconscious chuckle, her undimmed pleasure in the work, and her willingness to let Richard be himself.