Story for the Day: Amoebas
We're in the last stage of edits for Damson's Distress. A release date will be announced soon. In the meantime, let's watch Bartleby panic about amoebas.
“Oh, yes. Thank you, sir.” Mr Bellstrode forgot the giant momentarily and sipped his tea. “The man who took my seal was a small man, dark skinned—that is to say, darker than myself, but not darker than you, Captain—Indeed, you would almost look Sesternese, if not for the ears and eyes, and perhaps your height, which is quite considerable. I have never seen a Lucentian to be so tall—that is, you seem tall sitting down. The height of your shoulders, and your structure and carriage in general—“
“My dear Mr Bellstrode,” Danaco interposed, “how you do mumble on. The man you wish for me to find?”
“Oh, yes,” Mr Bellstrode exclaimed, rousing himself. “Dark, long black hair pulled back and trailing down—and he had a man with him who was twice his height, with a great curved sword at his waist—both of them high status, I believe.”
“Truly?” The captain’s brows arched. “And what evidence is there that these men belonged to the palace?”
“I saw them roving the gardens when I arrived. The queen did not speak to them—I daresay she doesn’t speak to anybody—but her retain did speak to them—that is, he gestured them, and after the whole of the trade commission was welcomed and shown to our quarters, the two men followed me. I thought at first that they were some sort of guardian being assigned us, for that seemed perfectly natural, but after they entered the room and pushed me aside, it was too late to refute them. The larger man held me back, and the stout one took my seal and laughed at me!”
The captain looked enormously amused. “You let them in your room, without knowing who they were?”
“I did not know they were going to rob me, sir!” Mr Bellstrode cried, in a panic.
“Come, man,” Danaco laughed, pouring himself another cup of tea, “you ask to be pillaged. Fortunately they did not think to plunder your person whilst you were alone.”
“Indeed, they seemed on easy terms with the queen’s man—how could I have known that they were coming to steal something from me? A visitor to Marridon would never be treated thus!”
“But you are not in Marridon, Mr Bellstrode. Here is Sesterna,” gesturing toward the scene beyond the window, “and while these men as you describe might be pilfering without the queen’s knowledge, surely she should never act for you were she sensible of your plight.”
“The great monarch of Sesterna is a great boinard,” said Bartleby. “If she dared to move a finger to do something other than summon a footman, the whole matriarchy would perish into the sea. The only time she can be asked to actually lead her people is when being called upon to choose a new ribbon for her hat and say nonsenseical things about fashion and so forth.”
“Here, you are too severe on her, my old friend,” the captain crooned. “Was not she generous to us by inviting us to her ball?”
“Ha! She didn’t invite us so much as she allowed us to stay. We invited ourselves—well, you were invited by a client—but we were so beneath her notice that she barely noticed Rannig, though he was the largest moving landmass in the room.”
“You are only sore that she slighted you when you chose to pay your addresses to her.”
Bartleby humphed and looked offended. “A formal shake of the hand wouldn’t have killed her—well it might have, considering her views on the lower classes. The wealth of education means nothing to her—and I even suffered to put on my best hat, but nobody can ever see anything with you in the way. A gesture and a word from you, and she saw nobody else.”
“I am exceptionally well-groomed,” Danaco acknowledged, studying his arms and brandishing his mane. “I think it is hardly my doing if nobody else in the ballroom could be asked to dress themselves half so well. A dignified air, worked physique, and a well-cared for aspect is all that is required to be the envy of everyone in a Sesternese ballroom, and I did not mean to make myself a rival in any respect, but I was the only tolerable dancer there.”
Mr Bellstode looked all the surprise he felt. “You have danced with the queen, captain?”
“I may have done a gavotte with her,” was Danaco’s careless reply, “but I should never succumb to imprudence while in such expensive company. I only saved her from dancing with another atrocious partner. Her previous opposite was a fright, all left turns and stomping heels, his toes kicking out every which way. A man does not dance like an elephant when the queen is his on his arm. He strode down the middle of the room, stampeding across the floor with thundering steps, and was likely to bring down the crystal candleholders the next moment had I not politely taken her hand when she came to the top.”
Bartleby said something about Danaco’s not so much taking her hand politely as he did push the man waiting for her aside to usurp him as her partner, and cleaned his lenses with his robe.
“I had her for the next two dances, and was very well satisfied to have her for two more, being the capital dancer she was.”
“You had her the rest of the evening, never mind the two dances,” Bartleby grumbled.
“Nay, my friend. I had her for all of an hour, you will remember. I did not keep her forever. I gave her back before the evening was over.”
“She did make an offer to have you as her frippet.”
“And a pretty piece I should have been. The delight of being a queen’s ornament is an office I should never mind having.”
The old man humphed. “If your vainity wants to dance with such a lolly-lace-mutton every day-- no, Rannig!” Barlteby cried, pulling the giant’s hand back through the window. “You cannot drink the water from the font! It is hardly clear enough, and there are leaves floating in it! This is not a mountain stream, for you to be putting your hand in whenever you want to drink. It is not a fountain with moving water. It is a stagnant pond, my boy. If you put your hand any father in, it will rot off from all the bacteria festering in that deathknell of a millpond.”
“But the fish are all right, Bartleby,” said Rannig.
“The fish, my boy, do not have the same weaknesses or biological make-up as you do. They are protected against certain pathogens that should kill you in five minutes. The fish, however, have a lifespan of all of two days and do not care about it. You are not a fish, though I do wonder if you were amphibious for a time, given your propencity to plod about without shoes whenever nobody is watching you. Who knows what contagions and diseases are in that water.”
Rannig blinked. “Who does?”
“I do, my oby!” said Bartleby, in a heated accent. “And there are a hundred and one things floating in that unmoving swill that can kill you. Excrement from the fish, micteration from the birds, dead overturned bugs everywhere! And think of the mosquitoes that have bred in it—mosquitoes, my boy, the very scourge of the north!-- and unless you wish to invite all them to breed in your sinuses and make house in your brain, you will keep your hands out of that water!”
Rannig glanced out of the window and perused the becalmed water of the pool beside him. “I don’t see any bugs, Bartleby.”
“They are there, my boy,” said Bartleby stoutly, his eye flaring fervently. “And do you want to drink what a bird has bathed in, hrm? Birds are not more innocent than insects when it comes to spreading diseases, and there are othings things besides in that plungepool of calamity. There is dirt and sludge, and perhaps a few newborn crayfish or a few newborn tadpoles swimming about. Should you like to swallow a mouthful of them and only realize too late what you have done? And at night, someone might have done his business in there, to save himself a visit to the public latrine. Who know when that water was changed last—and there are amoebas to consider, my boy! Amoebas!”
Rannig was well acquainted with Bartleby’s old friends bacteria, poison, and general uncleanliness, and while he knew what amoebas were—or at the very least had considered them with regard as to how small they were in comparison to how large he was—he did not believe they were a danger to him. He had been used to drink from the Sesternese pools before during his time as a slave in the work pits of the northwest, and thought there had been some unpleasantness at first, he was grown quite used to water there. His Frewyn mind, which according to Bartleby was comprised of a few glass marbles, accepted that there were many imperceptible lifeforms in the water, but science and demesnes were new to him and were therefore a sort of magic, something that only a rumpled old man with an unforgivable hat could make intelligible after a lecture and a few lamentations on how little Rannig knew of the sujbect. Secretly, Rannig delighted in hearing Bartleby’s ideas, laughed at his raving exclamations, and when Bartleby lauched himself into one of his great recitals on the scientific wonders of the world, which all seemed to recommend Rannig’s imminent death, the same smile wreathed his lips. It was easier to appease Bartleby than enter into an argument—which Bartleby would call a debate-- though he loved to see the old man’s ear hairs stand on end. He said a good-humoured “Aye, Bartleby,” to close the conversation and promised not to drink the water in the fountain, though magpies and butcherbirds were breeching the pool with their beaks and imbibing all the amoebas which Bartleby foresaw. He watched the reflection of the birds wavering in the surface of the water, listened to all their tinkling sounds as they splashed about, and continued wondering about amoebas and all their noxious companions as Mr Bellstrode went on.