Story for the Day: Waking Bartleby
The release of The Ship's Crew, the third novella in the Marridon series, is upon us. The book will be available in ebook format just in time for the holidays. And now, an excerpt involving certain librarian and a butter biscuit:
Danaco put away his letter and went toward the cabin, leaving Moppit to regale in the fleshment of being first to receive such an excellent piece of news, and when Danaco entered his office, he found Rannig standing over Bartleby, who was still sleep, laid out along the ground with tributary of drool slithering out of his mouth. Rannig had pinched Barlteby’s nose, to silence his incessant snoring, and now that Bartleby was breathing loudly out of his mouth, the giant seemed to be enjoying thoroughly himself.
“His lip flaps when I hold his nose closed,” Rannig giggled.
Bartleby inhaled, his bottom lip curling into his jaw, and when he exhaled, his nose trumpeted out a stifled rale, and his lips flapped against his bottom teeth.
“Amusement forever, Rannig, to be sure,” the captain laughed. “And the old garbist says he is not one for easy entertainment. Come, he does not know what a dandle he is. Only look how his gums undulate. They positively ripple across his teeth, and lucky for Bartleby he still has his original set. Were he in a poorer state to recommend his age, his lips would have retreated to his jaw.”
“His nose is wigglin’ under my fingers,” Rannig cooed. “It’s ticklin’ me.”
Rannig removed his fingers, a nasal drone rumbled out, and Bartleby’s snores overpowered the room once more.
“I daresay you did not hear the substance of my letter over his sonorous love calls.”
Rannig pursed his lips to stifle his laugh. “It was real hard hearin’ ye. Did yer real king write back to ye, boss?”
“Soon shall he, my precious petoncle, and much sooner than I had hitherto expected. Only two days to send and receive a message from here to Lucentia and back again. The Baracan must be fraught with new members now that Reneldin is on the throne. Everyone and their brother must wish to be an operative, if only to have Reneldin out all the sooner. During my father’s time, the Baracan was not more than thirty members, if one does not count the Ruvani side of the question. They can never be domesticated by leadership, regardless of the ruling family—Rannig, did not I tell you the consequences of your trying to lodge that flute in Barlteby’s nose?”
Rannig had taken the leaf flute from Bartleby’s pocket and currently had the mouthpiece wedged into the old man’s nose.
“I almost got it to make an A, boss,” said Rannig, in a mirthful whisper. “Bartleby’s just gotta breathe out harder, and then I can start movin’ my fingers to make all the other notes.”
“You might enjoy your japes now, but there shall be no tears when you lose your flute to Bartleby’s nasal trenches. Really, if you will put a flute in one side, you ought to put a second in the other. This is all half-doings here. Get you a second instrument, and you might make out a melody and a harmony at once.”
“Ye think Panza will let me borrow his whistle, boss?”
The captain looked thoughtful. “He does have a Lucentian ocarina. That might be much preferable considering the size, and as to tone, it might be do very well for your rhinal symphony.”
Bartleby sighed in his sleep, and the fluttering of his lips brought an audible feep from the flute.
“He’s gonna play a whole song before he wakes up,” said Rannig laughingly.
“You make a tolerable nasal instrument out of that flute, only do remember not to put it back into your mouth when you have done with it.”
“I won’t, boss,” and then, with subrisive eyes, Rannig added, “but Bartleby will.”
Danaco was quite astonished. “My dear giant, you are all contrivance and bravery this morning. I should never have believed it of you, to be so scheming, but I know you should never let Bartleby do so mad a thing as put his nasal microbes in his mouth. He has cultivated his own civilization in its great nosebush, the sororial civilization to the one living in his ears, and if you disturb disturb the anatomical peace, Bartebly shall know about it. The moment he taste his friends the amoebas, he shall plant the singing end of that flute in your eye. And what shall you say, if he awaken in the midst of your musical machinations?”
“I’ll tell him I’m doin’ a science experiment,” said Rannig, chuckling into a raised hand.
“He cannot be long angry with you there.”
Rannig’s conscience, however, would not allow him to be as sly as he should like, for he was coy and not much addicted to japes like the other crewmen. He plucked the leaf flute from Bartleby’s nose, cleaned the mouthpiece on his shirt, and returned it to Bartleby’s pocket, feeling that he had had amusement enough at the old man’s expense and would not suffer to tease him any longer. It was pleasanter to discompose Bartleby while he was awake; he was such a snappish old sauce and would get angry with anything, and while Danaco and Rannig must love him, they must make some mischief if his usual irritability was to be endured. It was all affable mischief, however, and the moment Rannig returned the flute to Bartleby’s pocket, the captain and the giant began considering how they had best wake Bartleby up.
“We did the fabricated pirate assault on the ship the other day,” Danaco mused, looking down at Bartleby, who was reaching his apotheosis of snores. “I think we ought not to try that again for some time. The hole in the deck is all but gone, so using that will not touch his subconscious.”
There was a violent wamble emanating from Bartleby’s stomach, and Rannig suddenly had an idea.
“He might be hungry enough, boss,” said Rannig, taking a biscuit from his pocket.
He held it up, and the captain canted his head and examined it.
“Is that a Marridon butterweight?” Danaco asked, the glint in his eye scintillating.
“Aye, boss,” said Rannig, in a whisper. “I hid a box of ‘em in the stores in case we ran out of tack. These always keep, ‘cause they got so much butter in ‘em and all.”
“Indeed, they need be all butter to charm a Marridonian’s palate. I remember hating these as a child, but the older I got and the more my Marridonian heritage seized me, and the more I enjoyed them. They are the very best thing in the world for tea and might conquer an army of able men who are not used to the amount of butter that goes into only one of these. They are not called butterweights for nothing.”
“Bartleby likes ‘em. He’s always eatin’ the crumbs off the plate whenever he gets these at the teahouse in Marridon.”
“If you mean to charm Bartleby out of his sleep with it, you shall need more than one, Rannig.”
Rannig would take his chance, however, and he waved the butterweight under Bartleby’s nose, waiting for the librarian to stir. The heavy scent of salted butter soon worked its powers, and Bartleby spluttered in his sleep, his eyes fluttered momentarily, his nose sniffed as though searching for the source. His nose twitched, and he began to miffle, “mffandthat’sanotherthingAttenbur—is that a butter biscuit?” The scent drew him upward, and Rannig moved the biscuit farther off, knowing that Bartleby’s sense of tea etiquette and nose would lead him where his consciousness would follow. He moved in a serpentine path, following the biscuit in a semi-somnolent stupor, and in one quick jolt, he gnashed at it, managed to catch half of the biscuit between his teeth, and after a hum and thankless deglutition, he slumped back down and tootled to himself, “mmff….must clean plate of crumbs...mayIhavemoretea…”
“You shall need an entire shipment to wake him at this rate,” said Danaco, looked down at the slumbering old man.
Rannig tilted his head and frowned. “Bartleby’s gonna hurt himself if he stays sleepin’ like that. his robes got tangled in with the blanket. His head’s in the opposite direction of his body, and his arms are crumpled and all. From up here, it looks like his neck is broken.”
“Do bend him out, Rannig, If he awaken with a start like that, he shall dislocate something, I’m sure, and I will not have him crying about joints and sockets over the majesty of a butterweight.”
Rannig carefully gathered Bartleby into his arms, and while the old man’s snores sounded through the cabin, the giant took hold of his ankles and neck, and began twisting him about the right way, stretching out his back and pulling them and making a puzzle of his limbs. There were a few cracking sounds, Rannig held him over his knee and wrenched his back, and after a few sharp cracks, Rannig unfurled the old man and shook him out.
“Looks all right now, boss,” said Rannig, examining Bartleby’s limp form, “but he still doesn’t wanna wake up.”
There was a pause, and Danaco was all fiendish connivance. “Rannig,” said he archly, raising his voice, “have not I told you not to touch Bartleby’s copy of the Chemical Almanac? Where are you taking it? You know he does not allow you to borrow his books without permission.”
A strange sound ebbed out of Bartleby’s lips. His ears perked, his eyes blazed open, his body sprung instantly to life, and he awakened with a horrible flout.
“GET AWAY FROM MY BOOKS, YOU—“ he began, his fists faliling, and when he saw the smiling faces of the captain and the giant and the confusion of first awaking was over with him, he remembered that he was not in his library, and he stared at the far wall and began to settle into his usual thrunching humour.