Story for the Day: Vegetable or Minreal -- Part 2
In the grand list of things Bartleby hates, being called a goblin ranks highest, alongside raucous children, broken biscuits, and weak tea. In truth, no one really knows Bartleby's history but himself. He was born in Marridon to Marridonian parents, but was given up when he was young once it became more financially logical to keep him at school and away from home. He was science professor at Marridon Academy for sometime, but after being maligned by the Dean of Studies, he joined Danaco's crew, and has been their cavernous library goblins ever since.
“Don’t worry, Mr Vase Imp,” said Rannig, with an amiable smile. “Just wanted to see what Bartleby was doin’ and all.”
“Don’t you always, you grinning gigglemug,” Bartleby grumbled, changing his slides, and then realizing, he immediately added, “Yes. Yes, you do. There. I have answered me for you.”
Rannig paused, with finger raised and mouth open, and after his brain had leapt over its own hurdles, he arrived at, “Not always, Bartleby.”
The old man would not agree to this, but the tax of conversation it was hardly worth its wages of one-sided remonstrance just now; he had Science to do. His desire for debate must hold, celluar movement was all his interest, he he must give all his attention to the rush and senescence going on at the other end of the lens. “Hrm, yes…” was all his reply, speaking more to his samples than he was to anyone else in the room. He paused, seemed thoughtful, and then began working something out in his notebook.
“Is there something wrong with my head?” asked Peppone, touching the same brow gully Bartleby had swiped.
“You mean other than the remarkable dent in it, which does not seem to affect your cognitive abilities though it should?” said Bartleby. “Your cells certainly are behaving in an odd way. They seem to be rather good at repairing themselves, from what I can observe. That they never did anything to rectify the noticeable wedge in your head is curious and warrants further investigation. You are uncommonly oocephalus, leading me to believe you are either part aubergine or some kind of malformed lagopodous plant.”
Peppone frowned, looked somewhat offended, and then pouted at his toes, which were just beginning to regain feeling.
“He says yer head’s a bit egg-shaped,” Rannig explained. “And that you got rabbit-like feet.”
“That is certainly true,” said Peppone, moving back and forth to admire the spring in his step, “But I don’t think I can be vegetable, can I?”
“Perhaps your mother was a piece of watercress,” Bartleby scoffed.
Peppone shrugged. “I don’t think so, though if I were a plant, it would explain a few things.”
Bartleby murmured something about its not being the first time there was a vegetable aboard this ship and turned aside to write in his book.
“Excuse me for saying so, sir,” said Peppone, after a moment’s pause, “but you don’t seem as concerned with the dent in my head as you are with my general composition.”
“External deformities are what they are,” said Bartleby, peering over his spectacles into his microscope. “Some can be telling of internal turmoil, and others are just a garnish, a dash of character with nothing to be done about them. That wedge in your head was either caused by your being dropped on your head when you were a child, or by a mallot trying to work out whether your skull is as pliable as the rest of you.”
“I admit, I was curious a few times,” Peppone laughed, rubbing the dent in his head, “but I didn’t purposely cause my head to sink in,” and then, with renewed anxiety, “At least I hope I didn’t.”
“No, I expect not,” Bartleby hummed. “Had you played hammer with your head, a vice would have been called for long ago. A good crimple between the jaws should have narrowed your skull and straightened you.”
Somewhere a notion illuminated . “Do you think that still might work?”
“You could always try for it, in the interest of science. Simply ask Rannig to crush your head between his palms. His hands will make an excellent vice. If your brain does not trickle out your ears and nose after the initial cracking sounds, you can probably continue with the compression. With his nonsensical strength, you could probably make your head something by way of an olive press—only make sure to record the process. I want to know at what applied pressure brain tissue begins to mulch.”
Rannig raised his hands beside Peppone’s head and gave him a blithesome and encouraging look, and Peppone felt afraid of something.
“As much as I appreciate your devotion to the Science,” said Peppone, shifted away from the giant’s shadow and out of his reach, “I think I like my head the way it is.”
A disconsolate ‘aww’ of some length and Rannig seemed disappointed, but a doting pat from Peppone softened the blow, and Rannig was happy again.
“Well,” Bartleby sniffed, “if you like your various deformations, then keep them, and I’m sure I don’t care whether you gain a few more while you’re on this ship. You already fit in with the malformed menagerie. The captain has collected a host of illegitimate half-breeds from all over the continents, each one of them a greater ill-mouthed ague than the last. They all make for excellent study, of course, but have no idea how to be quiet for ten minutes together. Mallagrugous milk-livered meacocks all of them, with no interest in science or anything like an education, ill-bred insolite—“
“Not me, Bartleby,” Rannig interposed. “I like science.”
“Yes,” said Bartleby, relenting, “you do seem to have an interest for it, even though you have no passion or understanding of the methodology. That cannot save you from being another one in the hodgepodge of humanity aboard this ship. Even your parents have no idea how you were got.”
“I was adopted,” Rannig proudly pronounced, speaking chiefly to Peppone. “My Ma and Da found me while they were doin’ a pilgrimage.”
“I guessed that you were different,” said Peppone, smiling sagaciously. “Besides the obvious height difference, I’ve never seen someone so young so large.”
“Oh, you can tell his age?” said Bartleby, half impressed. “Your powers of discernment haven’t entirely failed you. Nearly everyone gets it wrong.”
“And you, sir?” Peppone asked. “Are you too half-bred? You sound Marridonian to me, just like the captain, but you look like you could be half goblin.”
There was a terrible pause. Rannig cringed and slipped away, crouching behind the bookcase, and the flocculent tips of Bartleby’s ears reddened.
“What did you call me, sir?” said Bartleby sharply, one eye twitching.
Sensing some danger, Peppone glanced back at Rannig, who was tremulously hiding his face in the front of his shirt, and when Peppone turned back, the old man was standing in front of him, his nose flaring, his eyes blazing, his lips pursed in a firm flout. The wonder at how the old man reached him so quickly and soundlessly astonished him, and Peppone drew back and put his hand on his knife.
“Tell me again what you called me,” the old man repeated, snurling and holding his pen in his hand.
“Better not answer him, Mr Vase Imp,” Rannig’s shirt luffed, in a powerful whisper. “Everyone thinks he’s a goblin. He hates when ye call him that.”
“I mean nothing harmful by it,” said Peppone. “I was only asking because he mentioned everyone on this ship being a—and you called me an imp,” turning back to Bartleby, “and you called me a vegetable.”
“No, no, no,” Bartleby advanced, waving his hand dismissively, “I did not call you a vegetable. I was merely wondering whether you might be one. Hardly the same thing at all. I was theorizing, not making indecorous conjectures about your heritage.”
Peppone almost laughed. “You asked me whether my mother was a watercress.”
“A conjecture! Everything must be hypothesis until proven fact, and until I know what you are, I must make an educated guess. I, sir, know what I am, and I am not a goblin.” Bartleby humphed and folded his arms. “Nor am I a hoblgoblin or a fey or whatever other mythological homunculus you want to pull out of a hat and attribute to me.”
Rannig took his head from his shirt and wondered whether any of those creatures could be pulled from a hat and what kind of hat would be required to accomplish such a feat. His mind drifted toward ideas of Bartleby being summoned from the folds of a flatcap, and he giggled quietly to himself.