What That Young Person Was Doing There
Once the awkward silence which followed this outburst had dissipated the ladies moved to leave the gentlemen to their port and cigars.The young boy who had declared he would teach the princess went with them and Mr. Borret, now moving like one in a dream fairly collared his host and brought him down to the end of the table, away from the decanter and clouds of smoke.
“Who,” said Br. Borret in sepulchral tones, “Was that young person and what is someone like him doing here?”
For Mr. Borret had finally thought of where he had seen odd clothing like that the young boy was wearing before. When Mr. Borret was a young man he had traveled to the small continent and seen wonders and old fashioned castles. At that time it had been very fashionable to go and see the old world where animals still occasionally spoke and everybody knew somebody who knew someone else who had almost seen a pixie.
Mr. Borret did not like the small continent. It was not modern, it was not scientific, it was not– to be frank– tidy. And the thing he had liked the least was the school of sages.
The school of sages was built on a small rocky island off the southern coast. It consisted of several large round towers, a lot of sea birds that screamed, and one or two hundred wise men and wise men in training. The school was very friendly to tourists but all the sages wandered about in their robes and said things like “ what is here today may have never been tomorrow” and “ the cat that is bit is the one that howls” even if the conversation hadn’t been about cats at all. Mr. Borret had found it extremely unsettling and had even written a little paper on his return home on the subject of proverbs being bad for the digestion. In truth what he had really disliked was being in the same place with so many people who knew more than himself. He was used to being the cleverest and most learned person in the room and at the age of twenty had already determined that there was nothing anyone in the old fashioned world of the small continent could teach him. So on the whole the experience was very uncomfortable.
To now be faced by a young person some forty years his junior, wearing the robes of the Sage School and declaring he intended to take Mr. Borret’s job! It was altogether too much. Mr. Borret was beside himself. If he had had any energy to do so he would have frothed.
“I don’t know his name,” said Mr. Fortesquar uncomfortably. “He introduced himself as ‘the sage’ and Mrs, Fortesquar and I were unsure how to ask for his true surname.”
“Well,” said Mr. Borret, “That hardly answers what such a person is doing here. Really! In this modern age, to be entertaining professional wisemen…” he trailed off in unpleasant grumblings.
Mr. Fortesquar fixed him with a very cold stare. “Why to be sure he is dining as a guest of myself and my wife,” he said. And with that the worthy gentleman of the house turned his back on Mr. Borret and returned to his other guests.
In truth the story of how the sage had come to Winkling Street was one he himself would dearly like to know. Earlier that day the butler had knocked on the door of the sitting room where the Fortesquars were enjoying a quiet moment. The children were all out with the governess and would be for the next hour at least.
“Quiet,” said Mr. Fortesquar, staring at the ceiling. “It is a blessed thing. A holy thing.”
His wife, who was a calm woman unruffled by her eight children and their noise, gave him a fond look. “As if you did not begin the worst of it, Peter,” she said. “By promising them all a trip to the seaside. No wonder they nearly shouted the house down with joy.”
Mr. Fortesquar smiled. The only thing he liked better than planning family outings was giving his wife little presents. At that presise moment there was a bit of frippery he had forgotten the name of the instant the shop girl had said it to him residing in his pocket and he was very much looking forward to presenting it to his lady. But for now it was enough to stare at the ceiling and listen to the quiet, punctuated only by the rustle of his wife’s sleeve as she drew her needle in and out of her embroidery.
At that precise moment Bellamy, the butler knocked on the door.
“Enter,” said the lady of the house.
Bellamy entered looking disapproving. But since Bellamy had been hired by Mr. Fortesquar’s father for his beautiful ability to look disapproving (it gave such a tone to the house) and since Bellamy seemed to consider it his duty to do so at least once an hour, Mrs. Fortesquar was not much perturbed. “Yes Bellamy? She said in her cool, pleasant voice.
“There is a young boy here to see you, sir. He did not give his name.”
The Fortesquars looked at each other. Both of them would have thought that in such a case Bellamy would have quickly closed the door in such a person’s face.
“Is he begging?” asked Mrs. Fortesquar at last, “If he is tell him to go round to the back and cook will give him some bread and butter.”
Bellamy looked not only disapproving now but offended. That the mistress should think he hadn’t enough sense to deal with a beggar! But Bellamy was devoted to both his master and mistress and only let a little of his offense show on his face. “He is not a beggar, ma’am. He is dressed like a sage from a history book.”
The Fortesquars looked at each other again. They considered themselves modern people and had been the first house in their street to install gas lighting. They had been to Lord Hastely’s speech ten years ago on “A celebration of the modern lawyer and his triumph over the unscientific methods of the past” and both had purchased the commorative booklet that had been printed for te occasion. As was the case with most of their friends and neighbors they did not hold with the backwards ways of the continent. But one did not simply turn away someone as revered in his own country as a sage.
Mrs. Forestquar gave her husband a tiny nod.
“Show him in Bellamy,” said Mr. Fortesquar, making an effort to sit up straight and look like a modern man full of purpose.
The butler ushered in a small boy in a long, oddly shaped robe. Mrs. Bellamy instantly made up her mind to like him and do for him whatever she could. He had freckles and there was an ink blot on his nose. “Hello,” said the boy, “I am The Young Sage”
“I am Horatio Fortesquar,” said that gentleman, “And this is my wife.”
“How charming you both are, “ said the Young Sage, “Have a pickle.”
And with that he pulled a large glass jar of pickles out of his pocket, unscrewed the lid and removed one. A long drop of pickle juice poised on the end of the proffered pickle and then, trembling, fell onto the very expensive carpet.
Mr. Fortesquar, unsure of what else to do stretched out his hand. The Young Sage put the pickle into it. It was damp and a little limp.
‘I never stand upon ceremony,” said the Young Sage crossing to the yellow silk divan and lowering himself onto it with a little bounce. “I sit upon it.”
Mr. Fortesquar giggled. “How clever!” He turned to his wife, “Did you hear that my dear, sit upon ceremony!”
Mrs. Fortesquar folded her hands gently in her lap. “How may we help you Master…”
She trailed off suggestively but the Young Sage only hopped off the divan and did a hand stand.
“Oh I don’t need any help,” said the Young Sage, “I can do a headstand too. Look!”
By the time the gymnastics had ended, the children had returned and catching sight of the sage they immediately pounced upon their mamma with loud supplications to be allowed to keep him. Jeremy seemed to get a bit confused and think they were speaking of a dog for he offered to walk it every day.
At last the Sage stood and held up his hands. “Of course I am staying,” he said, “I am staying for-” he took a large pocket watch out of his pocket, shook it and looked at it very hard for a moment. “I am staying for one thousand five hundred and seventy two minutes.’
And so he did. He taught the children how to play human chess, he wound Mrs. Forestquar’s thread for her, sat the little boys down and told them that every gentleman knows how to knit, asked with great politeness to see Mr. Fortesquar’s books and then balanced them for him—first so the numbers came out straight and then on his nose— and went up to the attic to remove the bats all the while telling the children that bats were really just sweet little mice with wings and there was absolutely no reason to be afraid of tem, but that they should not live in attics because all the memories kept in the things up there disturbed their dreams.
Mr. and Mrs. Fortesquar had a perfectly lovely day. The children all followed the young sage about and Miss Ham the governess was able to sit and rest with her employers in the sitting room where they all discovered, to their great happiness, that they were all very fond of the same serialized story in the Newspaper. It was called “The Perils of an Ordinary Girl” and was about an actress who was secretly an heiress and was hired by the king to be a spy and who had the unfortunate problem of everyone she met falling desperately in love with her or else wanting to blow her up with dynamite.
So as Mr. Fortesquar turned his back on Mr. Borret and returned to his guests he himself would dearly have liked to know what the Young Sage was doing therer, but that emotion was not as strong in his breast as the desire that the young sage would stay.