Defining Moment

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In Which A Visit is Paid

While Maggie was casting about in her head for a polite way to find out his remedy without making it sound as if she had been bored, Eustace rummaged among his papers, and finally seated himself at his desk. He beckoned Maggie around, and she took a seat in the dormer window.

“A story?”

“Yes.” The lass's face lit up.

“An interesting one?”

“Yes. One with mystery – and intrigue – and about someone my age.”

“Mystery... intrigue... someone your age...” Eustace mused. “Alright. I think I can manage that....

Maggie lay awake thinking of the fascinating and intriguing story Eustace had told her – and it was true, which made it history.... She wondered why on earth history had been made so dreadful at the school if it was really as wonderful as Eustace made it.

The next morning, Maggie rose at once and, after consuming her breakfast and dressing herself, went to her sitting room to gather her sketchbook. The picture she had drawn of Scrabble she left with Eustace, and so leaving off her search remembering that, she tucked her sketchbook under her arm, and snatching a spare pencil on the way out, made her way across the dim silent manor to Eustace's study.

She mounted the stairs and tapped lightly on the open door. “Hello?”

“Oh, come in,” a voice said.

Maggie opened the door to reveal Eustace standing before the oblong table with the long curled parchment before him, chewing thoughtfully on his finger and making horizontal lines with a ruler at intermittent points.

“What are you doing?” Maggie asked, approaching the table, and peering at the scroll. “This must be very old.” She touched the parchment curiously, and looked up at the young man.

“Not very old at all, actually,” Eustace said, tossing the ruler aside and blowing the pencil dust away from his work. “I made it just a few weeks ago.”

“You made this?” Maggie was incredulous. “How?”

Eustace showed her how he had taken pieces of paper and pasted them together lengthways, rolling them on a wooden spool as it grew in size.

“And what did you make it for?” Maggie asked, following him as he retrieved an inkwell and quill, the latter of which Scrabble had been busily sharpening for him.

“Scrabble does my quills for me – I cut them, and when they become frayed, he chews it away for me. But I have to take it from him or else he will ingest too much ink, which isn't good.” Eustace shook his finger at the rat, and began to carefully mark over his blue pencil lines in ink upon the scroll.

“What are you making?” Maggie asked again, perching upon the chair to better see what the young man was doing, as he carefully divided the length of unrolled parchment with eight horizontal lines.

“Can you hold this for me?” Eustace asked, handing her his inky quill while he unfurled a new length for him to mark. “It's a timeline.”

Maggie formerly would have dismissed this as purposeless and dull, but since the history Eustace told her yesterday, Maggie wasn't so sure. “Why do you need a timeline? Do you not have one?”

“Oh, lots.”

“Then why are you making another?”

“Because I need another. None of the timelines I have will be like this one will. All my life, ever since I first heard of such a thing as a timeline, I have wanted to make one. Other timelines deal with certain places at certain times. Well – ” Eustace stopped short to peer at his work, “You musn't tell anybody, but I want to make a timeline of all history – all places, and all times. Include everything. It will be massive.”

Maggie looked dubiously at the parchment. “Is this going to be it?”

“This is just a practice. I want to see if arranging it this way will make sense.”

“It will be an awful lot of work,” she said, toying with a paperweight he had which looked like a moth encased in amber.

“It is, but I like it. It will probably take me the rest of my life.” Maggie wondered if there was anything in the world she liked so much as to spend the rest of her life doing it. She shook her head.

“I have brought my drawings, if you want to see them,” Maggie offered, seeing as Eustace dusted sand over his wet ink, and then hastily rolled up his scroll. “Most of my best drawings have been in my copybooks though, and those are left at the school. Still, this one is nearly full.”

He nodded eagerly and shut the text he had hastily begun to peruse, motioning her over to the window seat. Side by side, Eustace watched as Maggie showed him the contents of her sketchbook – he stuck his finger in the page of one he especially liked, and when they were through, turned back to it.

“I like this one best.”

“Really?” Maggie squinted at the rough doodle of a haystack next to a tiny croft with scruffy heath in the background.

“Is it a place you've seen?”

“No, it was described in a book. And since I had nothing better to do, I decided to draw it.”

“That's excellent...” murmured Eustace. “I like it because it reminds me of where I lived before I came here.”

“Tell me about it,” Maggie begged, sensing a good story, but Eustace shook his head.

“Not today. Today... ” he rose and smiled down at the little girl. “Today I have work to do. I always have work to do,” he chuckled. “Do you want to watch?”

“Yes,” Maggie nodded. Ordinarily there would have been nothing of interest for her in a dusty old library, watching a student examine ancient literature and histories and sitting in silence upon a rather hard chair, but something about this dusty old library began to hold for her almost a magical charm, as the only place in this dark manor which held some life and interest to her, and watching the mysterious young man's face as he studied and wrote, and scribbled and read was more fascinating than anything else at the moment, and, Maggie decided, more fascinating than anything else in the world, most likely. And Eustace did not work in silence. Regularly he would muse aloud about his work, and Maggie perked up her ears in interest, hearing him speak ancient strange names as if they were his old friends and companions, unheard-of places as if they were his native land, and defining moments in their histories as if he remembered them vividly.

Maggie passed the hours listening and watching, and drawing her surroundings. Once, Eustace spoke and told her, “There is a man that is surrounded by so much legend I am having a deal of trouble finding out where to put him in my chronology. But one thing is for certain – he was a Briton, with wild hair and a fierce aspect, and he did many heroic things.”

Maggie's curiosity was piqued by such a description, and her pencil began to scratch busily; presently, she rose, and presented her page to Eustace for judgment. He lay aside his volume and came around to the front of the desk to examine her drawing. He said nothing as he looked over the fine lines and bold shading that formed the figure of a man, tall and with a strong bearing, with a proud face and dark eye, matted light hair, and wearing the armor of both a Teutonic Knight and a Roman legionary...

“Maggie –” Eustace met her eye. “Could you do more drawings like this?”

Maggie was about to respond with pleasure, but Eustace had pulled down a dusty text and flipped through it, opening to a particular page, and saying, “Do the armor like these descriptions – here, read this to me –”

Maggie began to read a detailed description of the footwear and headgear of ancient Britons that contained many unfamiliar words and queer spellings of the names of some Britons who customised their armor to fit their great deeds. Eustace watched her with glowing eyes and looked from her to the drawing, and back again as she read.

At last he said, “Stop there. You see, if you could –”

Suddenly, he stopped short. He appeared to listen intently for a moment, and then his face grew white. Heavy footsteps approached across the room beneath, and soon the slow tread was heard on the staircase. Maggie looked in panic at the young man, and they both retreated behind to desk to await their siege. The door was not shut, and presently there appeared in the doorway the figure of Maggie's godfather, looking fierce and old, and just now, very angry.

“What is the meaning of this, boy?” he demanded in a harsh voice. “Why is she up here with you?”

“Please don't be angry – she found me, and –”

“She found you? Don't be ridiculous. You must have been making an everlasting amount of noise for a slip of a girl to come all the way up here to discover your haunt.”

“But she did – she meant no harm.”

“No harm? And nobody means harm in the world, I suppose, not to you, at least. But perhaps to me, eh?” The old man's voice escalated, and the boy trembled. “Do you think of anyone in the world aside from yourself, boy?”

“Do you?”

The question stopped Godfather Cadogan in mid-rant. He looked from the blanching boy to the pretty lass who had so boldly demanded the question of him.

“Maggie Clancy –” he said, in a voice low and ominous. “Do not tax my mercy, or my hospitality. You are permitted to live here, and to do as you please. But do not, do not allow knowledge of any presence other than your own leave this manor, do you understand? Or my clemency will be but brief, and I will have added to my many sins.”

“You said I may do as I please,” Maggie continued quietly.

“Just so,” Godfather Cadogan growled. “Do not disturb me.” He turned to go, muttering, “No good will come of this, I tell you...”

“What do you mean?” It was Eustace's turn to question now, but his manner was decidedly less bold.

“You interrogate me, boy?”

“Yes...” Eustace trembled, as the old man advanced on his desk.

“You were never to trouble me, and I was never to trouble you, that was our agreement, yes? Keep your end and I will keep mine. I did not have to bring you here, boy. Or you either,” he indicated Maggie. “I take my leave,” he muttered, and slammed the door shut upon them.

Footsteps retraced the long journey the old man had made across the huge manor to pay a visit upon the boy he kept shut in his garret library, and Maggie at last exhaled in relief.

“What a pleasant surprise,” she murmured. Eustace sank back weakly into his desk chair and held his head in his hands. This obviously had great effect on him.

“He hasn't seen me in nine years...” he whispered.

“Nor me, other than the day I came,” quipped Maggie, worried that he seemed so affected by her godfather's wrath. “Why do you think he came?”

“I do not know,” Eustace managed, looking up and giving her a small smile. “Leave me now.” Maggie obligingly returned to her rooms. The manor seemed not to have changed at all, as if the floors had no knowledge of their master passing over them for the first time in nearly a decade, and the doors no comprehension of who passed in, or out. The thought have her chills.

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