Defining Moment

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In Which Eustace Remedies Things

Maggie returned to the garret library first thing in the morning to find Eustace had made preparations for her arrival. The wingback chairs had been set straight, and upon a small table in between them reposed a simple tea service with biscuits. Eustace shooed Scrabble away from the repast, and smiled as Maggie entered.

“Good morning, miss,” he said, buttoning his jacket. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes,” the little girl smiled. “Did you?”

“Not really,” confessed Eustace. “Your arrival gave me much to think about. How long have you been here?” He took a seat and Maggie did the same.

“Nearly a month.”

“And you only just discovered me?” Maggie nodded, her mouth full of biscuit.

Eustace shook his head. “I am a secret.” She wanted to ask him what he meant, but he quickly stood and poured out the tea, continuing, “Yesterday I gave you quite a speech, didn't I. I'm sorry – I must have startled you.”

“No, not really, I just don't agree,” Maggie said stoutly.

“I'd like to hear about what you do here.”

“Nothing,” she sighed.

“That's a pity. What would you like to do?”

“Anything. Anything at all. I'm so dreadfully bored that I don't mind anything.” Seeing Eustace's face, Maggie rushed to apologize. “Not – not that I meant you – that I was so bored even you –”

He laughed. “Not at all, not at all.” He sipped his tea. “How old are you, Maggie?”

“Nine. How ol–” She stopped short and looked into her cup.

“I'm sixteen, it's alright.” He chuckled. “Does that sound old?” Maggie grinned. Eustace leaned toward her, and glanced about them conspiratorially. “I think it does. But that is only because I've been here nine years by myself, and it seems that I ought to be quite old by now...”

“Nine years! That means you came to live here the year I was born!”

Eustace looked surprised. “I thought you didn't like mathematics.”

“I don't,” Maggie said, putting on her best sulking face. “I like to draw.”

“To draw! That's excellent! I never could draw. You must show me some of your drawings someday. If you would like to, that is.”

“I could bring them tomorrow,” Maggie suggested.

“Certainly. What do you draw?”

Maggie told him she liked to draw flowers, and trees, and animals, and then hesitated a moment, and commenced to tell Eustace about Robert and Quinna and her dog, and Olivia. “It's silly, I know, but I like it,” she concluded.

“I don't think that's silly.” Eustace's clear eyes met hers. “Not at all.”


“No. Because when I was young, I used to pretend there was a man named Walter that I would talk to when I was by myself.”

“Do you still talk to him since you are all alone here?” Maggie asked. Eustace didn't answer. “I used to pretend that he would help me with everything, that he would take me places, and that I would show him things... and that he was my father.” He stopped and took a biscuit and munched it contemplatively.

The lass looked at him with compassion and at length, Maggie said quietly, “My father is dead too.”

Eustace looked up, and smiled at her kindness. “You said your mother just died as well.”

“Yes. I miss her,” Maggie admitted. “She was so kind, and beautiful. I have a picture of her here–” She pulled a locket from the neck of her dress and opened it. Eustace leaned close and gazed for a long time at the picture, then at Maggie, then back at the picture.

“She is beautiful. You look just like her. Is the picture opposite your father?”

“Yes. His name was Neville Clancy, he was in the royal navy.”

A funny look came over Eustace's face, and he said at last, “I think you will look like your mother when you are older.”

Just then, Maggie felt a tickle on her ear, and turned to see Scrabble, perching on the back of her chair and sticking his whiskered nose down toward her. She gasped and jumped up, brushing wildly at her neck, and looking mistrustfully at the rat. Eustace laughed.

“Come now, Scrabble, that's no way to introduce yourself to a lady. Let's try it again, and do it more properly this time.” He held out his hand and the rodent climbed into it. Eustace offered him to the girl. “You may hold him if you like. He is quite tame, and had never bitten me. Give him this, and he will adore you forever – perhaps even more than me.”

Eustace took a dab of jam upon his finger, and then taking Maggie's hand, wiped it onto hers, holding her hand out before Scrabble. Maggie'e eyes were big, but Eustace had hold of her wrist, and so she watched in horror as the rat sniffed her hand, and finally at the tiny pink tongue that appeared and began to lick the jam from her finger. The funny feeling brought a smile to Maggie's face, and by the time the jam was finished, Scrabble was sitting in Maggie's palm, looking about for more, and Maggie was stroking his glossy hide and talking softly to him. He was quite nice after all, even if he was a rat. Suddenly, she had an idea.

“Eustace – can you give me a piece of paper?”

“Paper? Now where on earth could I find a piece of paper in this room...” he teased. “What do you want it for?”

“I want to draw a picture of Scrabble for you.”

“Brilliant. But I warn you, he won't sit still for long,” Eustace gently pulled the rat's hairless tail to tug him away from the empty tea service which he was eying, and his tiny nails made a small screech on the polished table.

Maggie thanked Eustace for the paper, and at once set to work doodling, turning her paper this way and that, and pursing up her mouth as Eustace made efforts to keep Scrabble, if not in one position, at least upon the arm of his chair while she drew. At last she looked up.

“It's not very good.”

“Nonesense. Can he see it?” But Scrabble, tired of this game, whisked away the moment Eustace let go of his tail and disappeared. Maggie looked disappointed.

“He'll be back,” the young man assured her. “Meanwhile, can I see it?”

Maggie showed him her drawing, which, considering the circumstances, was actually very good. Eustace told her so, and she seemed pleased.

“Well, I hope you haven't been too bored in my company,” Eustace said, clearing the service. “But if you have, I can remedy that.”

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