Monday, November 11, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: "The Suggestion Box", Part 1 (Excerpt 2)

Horatio stared in bizarre fascination at this child with the bright-red hair. Nat cleared his throat to attract her attention.
“Butterfly?” he called, glancing apologetically at Horatio.
Butterfly peeked down through the branches of the tree at her cousin and the newcomer. She screwed up her face into a squint as she studied Horatio.
“’ere noo!” she shrieked in a thick Scottish brogue. “Hoo’s the braw laddie, Iggy? No’ th’ bloke fram America, is’n’e?” She giggled and swung her legs as she surveyed him from her perch on the branch.
“He is indeed,” Nat replied patiently. Even he was losing his usual jovial demeanor in the face of such vulgar and coarse manners. “Come down, Ezzie! I want you to meet him!”
Butterfly laughed and turned to pull faces at a squirrel that had approached this new large intrusion with mild interest. “Ah’ll comm doon when Ah’m guid an’ reddy, sar!” she laughed, and swung easily after the squirrel who was beginning to realize the dangers his own inquisitiveness had invited.

Horatio was, at that moment, experiencing the withering death and absolute demolishment of all the hopes and dreams of the last month. He realized now that he had long labored under the impression that all the friends of the Ratzkewatski family would be upper-crust, stately, and polished; the last thing he expected was this barefoot hussy who looked as if she was taking her first holiday from the mists of Brigadoon.

Copper-colored hair? Horatio was reminded as he watched the bobbing head wobble through the foliage of the tangled pile of copper springs he had once observed during an outing to a museum once in Exeter. He had no doubt that his well-meaning friend had sadly overestimated the other features of her appearance, as well. One thing at least Ignatz had represented closer to the truth than he likely intended: the young lady was decidedly impish. She seemed more comfortable in that tree than she might be upon the ground.
The squirrel finally evaded pursuit, bounding speedily out of her reach, and so Miss Butterfly Huffingtree had little recourse but to acquiesce to her cousin’s request. She seemed to ignore the twigs and leaves clawing at her hair and dress as she clambered down through the branches toward the trunk.
When at last she alighted, Horatio sneered inwardly as he thought she looked much like a tree herself, with her skin almost brown with the profusion of freckles, and the leaves and twigs covering her hair. This the delicate beauty Nat wanted him to meet? This the girl he assumed would be so alike to him that they would compliment each other like two lines of harmony?
Butterfly (she no longer warranted the stately name of Esmirelda) grinned at him, her morning-glory eyes almost white in their paleness within her ruddy face.
“Pleased ta make yer acquaintance, sar!” Her observance of etiquette was not amiss, and she curtseyed well enough. “Are ye that Rate Whistler mah coosin naever stops blatherin’ on aboot?”
Horatio nodded his head in a curt bow and responded, as manners dictated, “The pleasure is mine, Miss Huffingtree. I am he.”
Butterfly blushed even redder than she had been before and giggled. “Call me Butterfly then; Miss Hoofin’tree sounds sae stiff and straight-oop, like too much starch in th’ collar!” She flounced a few long paces in the full, free dress and flung her arms wide. “Do Ah seem like the type that uses any starch at all, Mr. Whistle?”
Horatio smiled wanly at her, like an older adult indulging an ignorant young child, even though, as he saw her now, he guessed that she wasn’t very much younger than he. “No, indeed, you do not,” he answered her. “And please, it’s Whistlestop; Horatio Whistlestop.”
“Whistlestop?” Butterfly repeated. She burst out in a cackling titter. “Ach! They’ve fonny names in America! C’n I call ye Mr. Rate?”
Horatio sighed, but acknowledged to himself that it was better to be Rate than Whistle. “If you’d like.”
The gong sounded, signaling dinner.
Automatically, Horatio offered his arm to Miss Butterfly Huffingtree. “Shall we go to dinner?” he invited her cordially.
“Thank ye, sar!” She chirped in her strange accent.

At dinner, she chattered endlessly with all the Ratzkewatski family. The more he listened, the more Horatio became accustomed to her thick accent. There had been a few Scottish students at the school in Exeter, but living among Englanders had softened their accents considerably. He was so unaccustomed to the unadulterated Highland brogue that it sounded akin to a completely foreign language.
Nat took advantage of the fact that Butterfly was occupied elsewhere to explain more about her background to his friend.
“Aunt Gertrude married Fredrick Huffingtree, a businessman from Scotland. You see before you a girl born and raised in the wild Highlands. She often spends a portion of the summer with us. Aunt Gertie and Uncle Fred are far too busy to travel themselves, but they both realize the value of allowing their daughter to socialize with proper British society, and in a loving environment such as her sister’s home, there can be nothing lacking.”
“Now, Nat,” Horatio responded, “I hope you understand that I hold your recommendation in high regard, and I have every belief that you are an excellent judge of character—“
Nat tilted his head and regarded his friend. “But—“
Horatio looked over as Butterfly burst into a bout of wild laughter. His eloquent glance at his well-meaning friend told the latter all he needed to know. Nat shook his head, “Come, Horatio! You’ve only just met! I promise, if you’ll just give her a chance, Butterfly will win you over with her charms!”
Horatio watched as the “charming” young woman proceeded to balance a spoon on the end of her nose, and laugh when it consistently fell, to the merriment of everyone watching.
“As a pet, maybe,” he remarked to himself grimly. “But nothing more.” Out of sympathy for his friend, Horatio kept these sentiments to himself and still put on a face of willingness for Nat’s sake.
After dinner, the youths all gathered around the fireplace in the parlor to chat with one another.
Ignatz noticed that Horatio stayed near him, so he called Butterfly over, to give his friend little recourse but to join him in engaging her.
“So, cousin Butterfly,” he began, “how have your academic studies been treating you? Are you feeling ready to enter the St. Edward’s Academy for Girls next year?”
Butterfly pulled a sour face. “Ach, no! I tried to tell me father an’ mother not to force me into such foppery and flounces, but naeboddy listens ta me! Sae it appears me days of wonderful freedom an’ ‘appiness are coomin’ to an end.” She sighed and stomped a little foot on the floor, giving her curls a decided bounce to emphasize her words.
Paulina looked over with a smile. Her poise spoke louder than her words as she said, “Oh, Esmie, it’s not like that! The staff at St. Edward’s will make sure you have everything you need to become a lady, that is all. I dare say you will find more freedom in that, not that the life you formerly knew will be discouraged and forgotten!”
“Polly, d’ye kenn’at fer sartin?” Butterfly turned the large blue eyes upon her cousin. “I daen’t want a lady’s life just yet! Besides,” there was a keen gaze in her eye that Horatio never expected to see, “Who’s to say there is more freedom in a lady’s life? I daen’t see you gadding aboot wi’ yer broothers any more, Polly dearie!”
Paulina smiled benignly, “It’s not because I can’t, Esmirelda; it’s because I do not wish to.”
“Well, I shall always wish to!” Butterfly huffed fervently, and she stood abruptly and moved to a seat closer to the boys of whom she spoke.

Horatio glanced at Ignatz, who shook his head. “I’m afraid my cousin isn’t presenting an appealing picture of herself,” the young host remarked. “I’m truly sorry; I had really thought she would behave a bit differently.”
“My dear brother,” Paulina inserted bitterly, “does the leopard change his spots? Esmirelda Huffingtree is a child to the core, and she will continue to be a child until she wakes up and realizes that it is no longer a viable option!”
Horatio could tell just by looking at the level of pink in her cheeks that young Paulina had definite ideas of when exactly that deadline would arrive.
“Well, Ignatz, my friend,” he said, “it appears that, after all, you really ought to do what you should have done all along.”
Ignatz frowned at his friend in confusion. “And what would that be, Horatio? Settle down and find a woman for myself to distract me from the affairs of my friend?”
Horatio chuckled, “Nearly right, Natty! Find a woman if you must—but leave the affair of my own heart to me. Will you?”
Ignatz sighed. “Of course I will.”

The mention of the impending Academy seemed to work a change in Butterfly Huffingtree over the next two days. Instead of the wild hoyden everyone had been ready to resign themselves to, she became morose, withdrawn, and exceedingly pale. She did not (to Horatio’s relief) resume climbing trees, but instead chose the shadiest, darkest, coldest corners of the gardens to wander in whenever she went outside, and inside, when everyone else conversed or played various games, young Butterfly sat in the corner, watching all with beleaguered self-restraint. On the second afternoon, Horatio decided that he almost preferred the shouting child to this ghost of a maid, and he informed her of such.
“Here now,” he accosted her. “There is no cause for such a downcast demeanor, for one who has her every need supplied! The Ratzkewatskis care about you, Miss Esmirelda, and I can tell you it pains them all deeply to see you like this!”
She sniffed and ran a delicate hand under her nose. “Isn’a true,” she murmured in protest. “Naeboddy cares aboot me. They’re all just waitin’ fer me to ship off to that infernal Academy. They’ve not one of them heard of what I want ta do!”
Horatio realized only at this moment that he had been unconsciously sided with the Ratzkewatskis in the affair of Butterfly Huffingtree, that he had always viewed her from an adult’s perspective, as a child whose only thought is for play and pleasure. Now he took her by the hand and gestured to a nearby stone bench next to the hedge.
“What do you want to do?” he asked her.
There was a sparkle in her eyes such as he had not ever been close enough to see before as she breathed, “I want ta see the world, Mr. Rate! No’ just a part of it, the hull mess o’ land and people! An’ I kin do it, too, wi’oot much money or time fer travelin’, as I have!”
It sounded so magical, so enchanting and mysterious when she spoke this way. Horatio found himself drawn in quite unintentionally. “How?” he asked. Did the girl possess some extraordinary power beyond human comprehension? It wouldn’t have surprised Horatio one bit to discover that the wild, strange girl was one of those “exceptionally gifted” children one read about in science fiction novels.
Butterfly grinned for the first time since the day he arrived. “I’ll ronn a boardin’ ‘ouse, see?” she declared. “It’ll be a boardin’ ‘ouse for travelers from all over the world! I will be the gatekeeper of the Atlantic, and everyone who comms o’er the water will pass my door, and I’ll keep ‘em and cook fer ‘em and give ‘em rooms and listen ta their stories—I’ll see the world, right in me aine parler!” and she laughed aloud.
Suddenly the old vivacious Butterfly was back, and she flounced to her feet. “But it’s a secret, Mr. Rate,” she told him in a fierce whisper. “Naeboddy who thinks o’ th’ Academy would ever let me keep a boardin’ house, it not bein’a proper engagement for a lady,” she gave an exaggerated caricature of Paulina’s manner. “Daen’t tell anyone!” Her bright eyes were pleading. In the moment he would answer, though, she suddenly sprang to her feet and ran back into the house, her old rambunctious self once more.

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1
-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 3: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!