[This is an archived version of my home site from 1995. The only changes are this blurb and the email address. For something more up to date go to www.gyford.com.]
CARNELIAN CONCEIVES A NEW AFFECTATION
After an hour of searching, Jherek realised that the grey time-traveller was no longer at the party.
Because most of the guests had left, it had not been a difficult search. Disconsolate, he returned to his
locomotive and swung aboard, throwing himself upon the long seat of plush and ermine, but hesitating
before he pulled the whistle and set the aircar in motion, for he wanted something to happen to him - a
compensation for his disappointment.
Either, he thought, the time-traveller had been returned to the menagerie of whomever it was that owned her, or else she had gone somewhere of her own volition. He hoped that she did no have a time-travelling machine capable of carrying her back to her own age. If she had, then it was likely she was gone forever. He seemed to remember that there was some evidence to suggest that the people of the late 19th century had possessed a crude form of time-travel.
'Ah, well,' he sighed to himself, 'if she has gone, she has gone.'
His mother, the Iron Orchid, had left with the Lady Voiceless and Ulianov of the Palms, doubtless to revive memories of times before he had been born. Being naturally gregarious, he felt deserted. There was hardly anyone left whom he knew well or would care to take back with him to his ranch. He wanted the time-traveller. His heart was set on her. She was charming. He fingered his cheek and smiled.
Peering through one of the observation windows, he saw Mongrove and Werther de Goethe approaching and he stood up to hail them. But both pointedly ignored him and so increased his sense of desolation where normally he would have been amused by the perfection with which they played their roles. He slumped, once more, into his cushions, now thoroughly reluctant to return home but with no idea of any alternative. Mistress Christia, always a willing companion, had gone off with the Duke of Queens and My Lady Charlotina. Even Li Pao was nowhere to be seen. He yawned and closed his eyes.
'Sleeping, my dear?'
It was Lord Jagged. He stood peering up over the footplate. 'Is this the machine you were telling me about. The - ?'
'The locomotive. Oh, Lord Jagged, I am so pleased to see you. I thought you left hours ago.'
'I was diverted.' The pale head emerged a fraction further from the yellow collar. 'And then deserted.' Lord Jagged smiled his familiar, wistful smile. 'May I join you?'
Lord Jagged floated up, a cloud of lemon-coloured down, and sat beside Jherek.
'So the Duke's display was not a deliberate disaster?' said Lord Jagged. 'But we all pretended that it was.'
Jherek Carnelian drew off his opera hat and flung it from the locomotive. It became a puff of orange smoke whicih dissipated in the air. He loosened the cord of his cloak. 'Yes,' he said, 'even I managed to compliment him. He was so miserable. But what could have possessed him to think that anyone would be interested in an ordinary little alien? And a mad, prophesying one, at that.'
'You don't think he told the truth, then? The alien?'
'Oh, yes. I'm sure he spoke the truth. Why shouldn't he? But what is particularly interesting about the truth? Very little, when it comes down to it, as we all know. Look at Li Pao. He is forever telling the truth, too. And what is a truth, anyway? There are so many different kinds.'
'And his message did not disturb you?'
'His message? No. The lifetime of the universe is finite. That was his message.'
'And we are near the end of that lifetime. He said that.' Lord Jagged made a motion with his hand and disrobed himself, stretching his thin, pale body upon the couch.
'Why are you making so much of this, white Lord Jagged?'
Lord Jagged laughed. 'I am not. I am not. Just conversation. And a touch or two of curiosity. Your mind is so much fresher than mine - than almost anyone's in the world. That is why I as questions. If it bores you I'll stop.'
'No. The poor little space-traveller was a bore, wasn't he? Wasn't he, Lord Jagged. Or did you find something interesting about him?'
'Not really. People used to fear death once, you know, and I suppose whatever-his-name-was still fears it. I believe that people used to wish to communicate their fear. To spread it somehow comforted them. I suppose that is his impulse. Well, he shall find plenty to comfort him in My Lady Charlotina's menagerie.'
'Speaking of menageries, did you see a girl time-traveller dressed in rather heavy grey garments, wearing a straw-coloured hat with a wide brim, at the party?'
'I believe I did.'
'Did you notice where she went? Did you see her leave?'
'I think Mongrove took a fancy to her and sent her in his aircar to his menagerie before he left with Werther de Goethe.'
'Mongrove! How unfortunate.'
'You wanted her yourself?'
'But you've no menagerie.'
'I have a 19th century collection. She would have suited it perfectly.'
'She's 19th century then?'
'Perhaps Mongrove will give her to you.'
'Mongrove had best not know I want her at all. He would disseminate her or send her back to her own time or give her away rather than think he was contributing to my pleasure. You must know that, Lord Jagged.'
'You couldn't trade something for her. What about the item Mongrove wanted from you so much? The elderly writer - from the same period, wan't he?'
'Yes, before I became interested in it. I remember, Ambrose Bierce.'
'He went up with the others. In the fire. I couldn't be bothered to reconstitute him and now, of course, it's too late.'
'You were never prudent, tender Jherek.'
Jherek's brows knitted. 'I must have her, Lord Jagged, I think, in fact, that I shall fall in love with her. Yes! in love.'
'Oho!' Lord Jagged threw back his head, arching his exquisite neck. 'Love! Love! How splendid, Jherek.'
'I will plunge into it. I will encourage the passion until I am as involved in it as Mongrove is involved in his misery.'
'An excellent affectation. It will power your mind. It will make you so ingenious. You will succeed. You will get her away from Mongrove, though it will turn the world upside down! You will entertain us all. You will thrill us. You will hold our attention for months! For years! We shall speculate upon your success or your failure. We shall wonder how far you have really involved yourself in this game. We shall watch to see how you grey time-traveller responds. Will she return your love? Will she spurn it? Will she decide to love Mongrove, the more to complicate your schemes?' Lord Jagged reached over and kissed Jherek heartily upon the lips. 'Yes! It must be played out in every small detail. Your friends will help. They will give you tips. They'll consult the literature of the ages to glean the best of the love stories and you will act them out. Gorgon and Queen Elizabeth. Romeo and Julius Caesar. Windermere and Lady Oscar. Hitler and Mussolini. Fred and Louella. Ojiba and Obija. Sero and Fidsekalak. The list goes on - and on! And on, dear Jherek!'
Fired by his friend's enthusiasm Jherek stood up and yelled with laughter.
'I shall be a lover!'
'Nothing shall thwart me!'
'I shall win my love and live with her in ardent happiness until the very universe grows old and cold.'
'Or whatever our space-travelling friend said would happen. Now that factor should give it an edge.' Lord Jagged fingered his linen-coloured nose. 'Oh, you'll be doomed, desired, deceived, debunked and delivered!' (Lord Jagged seemed to be fond, tonight, of his d's.) 'Demonic, demonstrative, determined, destructive.' He was dangerously close to overdoing it. 'You'll be destiny's fool, my dear! Your story shall ring down the ages (whatever's left, at any rate). Jherek Carnelian - the most laudable, the most laborious, the most literal, the very last of lovers!' And with a yell he flung his arms around his friend while Jherek Carnelian seized the whistle string and tugge d wildly making the locomotive shriek and moan and thrust itself throbbing into the warm, black night.
'Love!' shouted Jherek.
'Love,' whispered Lord Jagged, kissing him once more.
'Oh, Jagged!' Jherek gave himself up to his lascivious Lord's embrace.