Bias and Vanity
by Bertil Falk
When the Tennebs returned through the wall from Egdolsacul to Enruobgnol, Mr. Tenneb was very excited at the marked attention Mizz Yelgnib had shown his elder son.
“What a match it would be for us,” he repeated over and over again.
“Papa, please!” Enaj pleaded.
“She danced all the time with you, more than she should according to etiquette,” Mr. Tenneb maintained. “Dancing that much with the same partner is a sign of ardent interest.”
“There’s some truth to that,” said Thebazile. “I overheard Mizz Yelgnib telling Mizz Yzrad that never before in her life had she seen such a handsome chap as Enaj.”
“You see, you see,” Mizter Tenneb exclaimed.
“I danced every dance,” Aidyl reported in a triumphant voice. “General Retsrof’s husband invited me to Nothgrib, where the soldiers of the Women’s Royal Spacerines are stationed most of the year. But right now the officers are camping at Notyrem and they’ll probably be available at the next party.”
A cry escaped Mizter Tenneb’s lips. “Officers! Just around the corner! I think we’ll go to Notyrem tomorrow.”
“It’s incredible that Mizz Yzrad said what she said about Thebazile,” Enaj said.
“That haughty woman!” Mr. Tenneb exclaimed. “What did she say?”
“That I’m sufferable, but too muscular and far too illustrated to tempt her!” Thebazile said.
“That woman is far from well-mannered. How could she say that to you?” Mr. Tenneb exclaimed.
“Dad, what she said was not for my ears. I think that she could have bitten off her snobbish tongue when she realized that I overheard her. Anyhow, I hope I’ll never see that insufferable lady again, and if I see her again, I’ll stay out of earshot.”
The next day, Mrz. Tenneb stayed at home. Yram, who had been the wallflower of wallflowers at Egdolsacul, followed his mother’s example.
The other family members adjusted a wall to Notyrem and entered the shopping mall on the inside of the asteroid. The mall was in a kind of elated uproar.
The reason was obvious. Mounted members of the Women’s Royal Spacerines came riding on their Betelgeusian dragons, strong three-headed beasts moving like ballet-dancers on a row. Enthusiastic spectators, onlookers and bystanders applauded as the proud officers in their golden uniforms passed by.
“Look, there’s General Retsrof,” Aidyl exclaimed and when the general heard the boy’s voice, she turned around and smiled. She immediately went over to say hello to the Tennebs, and by her side was a beautiful officer.
“May I introduce Mizz Mahkciw to you,” General Retsrof said and the young lady paid reverence to the four boys and their father.
“Nice to make your acquaintance,” she said.
The officers on their dragons passed by, and at that moment two civilian ladies, both mounted on splendid dragons, appeared. One of the ladies turned out to be Mizz Yelgnib and the other her friend Mizz Yzrad.
Mizz Yelgnib was obviously very happy to see Enaj Tenneb again, but something happened that bewildered Thebazile. For when Mizz Yzrad caught sight of Mizz Mahkciw, she gave a start, and Mizz Mahkciw in a similar way winced. Mizz Yzrad’s stiff appearance got even stiffer. She turned her dragon around and rode away.
The incident only took a fraction of a second and nobody except Thebazile had seen what happened. Mizz Yelgnib, who was somewhat puzzled by her friend’s sudden disappearance, bid a confused farewell and sat off at full speed after her.
Mizz Mahkciw turned out to be a nice acquaintance. She and General Retsrof had tea with the Tennebs at a nearby taverna.
“It seems to me that you know Mizz Yzrad,” said Thebazile.
“You noticed my reaction to her?” said Mizz Mahkciw.
“And her to you. Yes, I did.”
“You see. Well, once upon a time we were good friends. We grew up together at her mother’s solar estate.”
“Notrebmep solar system?”
“That’s right. My mother was her mother’s closest and most trusted employee. My mother was in charge of handling the whole system. When my mother died, Yzrad’s mother treated me as if I had been her own daughter. As a matter of fact, she liked me more than Yzrad. That’s one of the reasons for Yzrad hating me.
“Her mother had arranged for me to become a priest in a nearby congregation, but when she died, Yzrad denied me that privilege. I was thrown out from the estate and as you see, I now have to make my living as a soldier, albeit an officer. But it makes a big difference as to what I had hoped to do in accordance with my benefactor’s wish.”
“Oh hell!” Thebazile exclaimed. “What repugnant behavior on the part of Mizz Yzrad.”
“Yes, she’s a disgusting creature. To be sure, she’s rich as anything and arrogant like no one else. Do you know her?”
“Just a little. Her behavior was beyond description at a ball last night. She obviously looks down on all of us.”
“Sounds like her in every respect,” asserted Mizz Mahkciw.
“I’m afraid that she may turn up at the next ball.”
“When will that be?”
“Six days from now. I hope you’ll come?”
“I certainly will. I’m not staying away because of her. I’m not afraid of Mizz Yzrad.”
Mr. Tenneb and his sons said goodbye to the two officers and went back to Enruobgnol, where Mrz. Tenneb had news for them.
“We’ll have a guest for dinner. Guess who?”
They guessed and guessed.
“Well, it’s not easy to guess,” Mrz. Tenneb admitted. “She’s never been here before, but there’s only a death between her and this asteroid.”
At that, they all understood that the guest was the dreaded Mizz Mailliw Snilloc, the syssling of Mrz. Tenneb and the one, who according to the law of succession, would be the owner of Enruobgnol the day Mrz. Tenneb passed away.
“Mizz Snilloc has recently been ordained and she has been appointed vicar by Count Hgruob ed Enirehtac of the Sgnisor solar system, one of the most glorious solar estates in a neighboring galaxy. Mizz Snilloc’s parsonage, Eganosrap, is situated close to the enormous mansion at Sgnisor. She wants to see us. God knows why, but she is welcome.”
There were different reactions as to whether this was good news or bad news, but they were all curious.
“How Mizz Snilloc will treat you after my death may well depend on how you behave, so please try to be civil to her,” Mrz. Tenneb emphasized, well knowing her boys’ faults.
It was easier said than done to be civil towards the reverend, for she turned out to be one of the most stuck-up and silly persons they had met. Thebazile found that unlike another conceited woman (he thought of Mizz Yzrad), reverend Snilloc in addition was ridiculous.
“What a nice family,” Mizz Snilloc chirped like a bird at the dinner. “So many handsome boys. As a matter of fact, the Count has impressed on me to find a husband as soon as possible.”
Having a presentiment that this could end in a disaster, Mrz. Tenneb hastened to interpose. “There’ll be plenty of young men at the ball in a few days. Since you’ve declared your decision to stay with us for some time, I think that the ball will be a good hunting-ground if you want to catch a husband,” Mrz. Tenneb said and she was not entirely able to hide the alarm she felt.
On the other hand, Mizter Tenneb made a mental note of Mizz Snilloc’s statement and said: “You’ll have plenty of time to acquaint yourself with our sons during your stay.”
Thus, as usual, wife and husband took quite opposite stands as to the prospects the statement of their guest gave rise to.
“Tell us about the Count,” Mrz. Tenneb changed the subject.
“Oh, the Count is the most elegant and supercilious individual. He’s awfully kind to me in a decently condescending way. And what a mansion! The doorknobs ...”
“Doorknobs?” Yram almost screamed. “They exist only in books. Not that I know what they are, but they certainly don’t belong to our century.”
“Be aware, young lady,” Mizz Snilloc said, “that doorknobs are a kind of antiques that are very expensive. The doorknobs at the mansion of the Count are attached to old-fashioned things called doors, and these knobs each command a price of millions of universal currencies. In the past they were used to open up between rooms. That is of course not possible today. The doorknobs are too delicate to be touched, but they are there, decorating the ancient doors.”
“Well, I never,” Mr. Tenneb said. He was obviously impressed.
“The Count has a son, who would be the diamond at the court of the President of the cosmos on Rigel,” their guest said. “However, thanks to centuries of advanced inbreeding, he’s a very delicate chap and has to take it easy. According to tradition and a decision made by his father and the deceased mother of a certain Mizz Yzrad, he’ll be married to the latter.”
At that, Thebazile, who found the match properly funny, was unable to suppress a laugh. Mizz Snilloc, who mistook the laugh for a manifestation of approval continued undisturbed.
“Yes, yes, that’s how things are done in high society, far above us ordinary mortals. The Count is so considerate and he has made the most wonderful arrangements when it comes to my abode. If I marry, he will personally, as they did in the past, spend the first night with my husband. That is, if he was gay. These are the elevated customs and as such very, very old. I find it very flattering.”
The boys looked at each other and Mizz Snilloc paused while her words sunk in.
“And as to flattering,” she continued, “I flatter myself to be very good at flattering young men using well-conceived statements that sometimes come to me right out of the blue, but if my inspiration dries up, I turn to sentences I’ve construed in advance to meet any situation.”
“Like what?” Mrz. Tenneb said with a smile.
“Like ‘My dear friend, today you’re a real smash hit’. Sentences like that tickle the boys’ vanity.”
There were lots of suppressed giggles among the boys.
“I must congratulate you on being that ingenuous,” Mrz. Tenneb said and it looked as if Aidyl would fall prey to a paroxysm of laughter, but at the very last moment, he was able to conquer his explosive temperament and it all fizzled out.
After the dinner, Mizz Snilloc and Mr. Tenneb made a turn in the garden. Mizz Snilloc, who more or less had decided on Enaj as her companion through life, pronounced her particular partiality for him, which caused Mr. Tenneb to sound a note of warning by explaining that his eldest son was more or less supposed to be engaged.
“But what about my second daughter,” Mr. Tenneb said in order not to let the reverend off the hook that easy.
Mizz Snilloc stole a furtive glance at Thebazile, who was talking with Enaj at the other end of the garden. She contemplated how Thebazile would fit into the parsonage of Eganosrap and she found that he, in spite of being a man mountain, most certainly would fit into the house. Thus determined, she went over to Thebazile and asked him to twist the two first dances at the ball with her. Caught napping, Thebazile to his utter surprise heard himself answering in the affirmative.
During the upcoming days before the next ball, the boys and Mizz Snilloc went to Notyrem every day and had tea with Mizz Mahkciw. Thebazile found that he liked her very well. Her kindness, her natural behavior, her beauty — she had everything a woman should have but rarely had, according to Thebazile’s opinion.
And Mizz Mahkciw, who spent a lot of time elaborating on her miserable relationship to Mizz Yzrad, seemed to be very pleased having such an understanding listener as Thebazile. He for his part looked forward to dancing with Mizz Mahkciw at the ball as soon as he had cleared off his ill-considered promise to Mizz Snilloc.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk