In Which A Partnership is Formed
When Maggie returned the following day, Eustace was quite himself again, and except for a sad look in his eyes when Maggie would catch him pausing from his work, no trace remained of Godfather Cadogan's visit yesterday. Neither spoke of it, but it reigned foremost in their thoughts without words adding to it's memory. At last, Eustace addressed himself to Maggie, who had brought a tea-towel and was setting herself to the long task of dusting every item and surface in Eustace's library.
“Thank you for your help – I have needed to clean up in here for ever so long, but didn't know how to begin.” Maggie grinned, and was about to continue polishing a brass bookend, but Eustace stopped her. “Why don't you stop that for a while –”
“Oh, I don't mind...”
“Well, I thought I would tell you another story. This is one that I have been researching for a while, but I thought you would like it.”
That was enough. Maggie set aside her cloth, and sat upon the window seat, her knees tucked up to her chest, watching him eagerly. Eustace sneezed, and then laughed.
“Alright then. I promised you this one – about a boy who saved his city from the Spaniards..."
That night, there was a terrific thunderstorm. Rain poured from the heavens, dousing the huge dark manor and running in torrents from the leaded windowpanes; lightning flashes illuminated the sky, and crashes of thunder shook the candles in their sconces upon the walls. In his study, Eustace sat up by the light of his oil lamp and candles, and continued to study and scribble busily. A particularly large flash of lightning, followed by an immediate crack and rumble of thunder caused him to stop in his work, and look up at the dark bleary window. He rose, and shivered, pulling his jacket about his shoulders, and then returning to his studies. He sighed, and ran his hands through his hair. This bit had always puzzled him – in all the histories he read, he could find no information whatsoever upon this particular subject, and he couldn't very well leave it out... Never mind. Time for bed. A new problem for a new day.
Eustace took up his lamp after putting out all the other lights, and slowly made his way through the shadowy and cluttered room to his chamber, which was adjacent to the library. It was an odd sort of room that hid under the angle of the roof, and thus had a sloping ceiling and but one window, and that at the far end of the chamber. A simple iron-framed bed stood along the wall opposite the window, and above it was fitted a small shelf upon which reposed a few prized volumes, an old box filled with dried leaves, grasses, and blossoms, and a carefully preserved picture of a beautiful woman. It had been drawn by some clever artist, initialed M.C. – Eustace held the light up to admire it once more – it was perhaps a foretelling of the pictures another young M.C. might make someday.
Truth be told, there was not much else to the room, unless it be the plain chair by the bedside, the worn rug in the middle of the floor, the trunk beneath the window which held all of Eustace's clothes and other possessions, and the solitary bench under the slope of the roof, which held, of all things, a large wooden globe, well-used and dusty. Undressing and hurrying into bed, setting the lamp, which by now was burning low upon the chair, Eustace shivered for a moment in the silent chilly room, and then shut his eyes to prepare for sleep.
The face of the woman in the picture floated before his eyes, and a slight breeze stirred in her hair. Eustace smiled. It was often so with him, in the moments just before sleep came. He had often wondered what her voice sounded like, and held his breath in wonderment as her lips curved in a smile, and then parted slightly. Her breast rose as if with the intake of breath, and she was about to speak his name... “Eustace –” There was something familiar about that voice, and Eustace watched, spellbound as she lowered her lids over her eyes in a slow blink, and began to speak again:
“Eustace... Eustace –”
Eustace jerked awake. That was no dream, but a very real voice. He listened hard to the sound of the drumming rain upon his roof and the growl of distant thunder. The wind continued to howl, and at last the voice came again.
“Eustace – where are you?”
It was Maggie. Leaping out of bed and throwing on a dressing gown, Eustace hurried out into the library to see the little girl standing in a puddle of light thrown by the taper she bore. She was wearing her nightshift, and a shawl was huddled about her shoulders; stepping one bare foot up on the other, Maggie smiled sheepishly at him.
“I'm not afraid.”
“Of course not.” He smiled and rubbed his face. “Only lonely, just like me.” Maggie nodded shyly.
“Where were you?” she asked, looking at the door behind him.
“My room. Would you like to see?” She nodded, and, taking her by the hand, Eustace led Maggie into the small chamber. “This is where I sleep.” The girl's lighted candle illuminated the room, and she commented on how small it was.
Eustace replied, “Oh, it's more than big enough for several more of me.”
He seated himself upon the bed, Maggie clambering up beside him. He took the candle from her and set it upon the chair, tugging it across the floor until it was before them. Then he pulled the coverlet off the bed and heaped it upon Maggie's lap. She smiled and huddled down cozily.
“I suppose you would like to hear another dull history story now,” Eustace mused. The candlelight flickered upon their faces as the storm continued to rage outside. Maggie nodded, but Eustace's face was serious. “Being awake at night is always a very ticklish subject...” he said, stroking a finger along his nose, and then pointing at her. “You know that. I don't think we should just sit up and waste time. This is a very special occurrence. A dark and stormy night in an old and solitary manor...” He shivered and Maggie laughed, spreading some of the coverlet over the young man's lap. “Besides, you just heard a wonderful story this morning. Now, I think, is the perfect time to talk of serious matters. And I have a particular matter in mind.”
Maggie didn't like the sound of this. In her thoughts, this was either going to be something bad, such as the fact that her handkerchief was not starched, or that she was being a pest asking for stories, or worse, something hum-drum like... Maggie suddenly realized that in Eustace's presence, it was becoming harder and harder to imagine something hum-drum or dull. So she asked, “What do you mean?”
“I have a proposition to make.”
Eustace turned toward her, and settled his dressing gown about him, the candlelight shining brightly upon one side of his face, and streaking his dark hair with dancing amber flashes. “But first I must make sure you agree with me upon the subject. Do you still think history is dull? Don't be afraid to answer truthfully.”
But he could scarce finish, for Maggie was exclaiming, “Oh, no! I don't think it's boring anymore! You make it interesting!” Joy filled the young man's face.
“You don't know how pleased I am to hear that. So – here it is. My timeline. It will need illustrations, will it not? It would be a long task, many years long... but would you like to help me with it? I would be honored to put your name beneath mine – compiled and illustrated by Eustace Reid and Mortimer Clancy... What say you?”
In accord with Eustace's serious proposition, Maggie considered for a moment. She spoke slowly and carefully.
“I think – I know – that it would be a terribly big task... and I think – I know – that it would be a terribly big honor... to help you with it. Besides being a lot of fun. But you don't really need help, you know, you are so smart,” she concluded.
“So, that is a yes?” Eustace strove to hide his smile.
“Yes.” Maggie answered, candlelight and enthusiasm sparkling in her eyes.
“Magnificent.” He beamed. “Now that is what I call I good thing to do on a stormy night, don't you think? Now, I wish that you could stay here with me and we could while the night away in various amusements, but I know I shall be a fright tomorrow if I can't sleep a little before I study some more – I didn't go to bed at all last night, nor the night before... I think. Ah, yes, I did – but only for a few hours.” Maggie stood and helped Eustace re-make his bed. “I was drafting the battle of Agincourt, and once you begin, it's really hard to stop in the middle of things.”
Maggie took up her candle. “Goodnight, then, Eustace.”
“Goodnight then – Illustrator of Timelines.” Maggie grinned.
“I can't wait to begin. You will tell me what you need me to draw, won't you?”
“Don't even get me started...” Eustace yawned.