Where Ignacio Fernandez Dons a Suit
Once I returned to my aunt’s home it was close to lunch and Fernandez was waiting for me in the hallway. No doubt he was used to Patrick’s return from his walk by then and assumed I should be back the same time, which I also was. Opening the door I was forced to keep my hold on Sigurd with only one hand but managed nonetheless. I refused to put the little creature down even though by that time he had really soaked through my bodice and, I wagered, spread mud all over it. It was a strange sensation to realise I actually did not care a lot about that. All I paid attention to was Sigurd’s well-being and that was far from being fulfilled.
‘My lady, what is that you’re carrying?’ Fernandez asked in what I could only think was shock, had he in truth shown any visible sign of the kind.
‘I believe it is a dog, Fernandez, though I am not sure which type. I, or rather Patrick, found him down by the river. Somebody had tried to drown him in a sack.’
‘I say!’ He exclaimed and hurriedly tried to smooth this over. ‘That is, madam, I mean to say such behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.’ It seemed Fernandez was a dog-enthusiast.
‘My sentiment exactly!’ I looked down at Sigurd’s black, sleek head and felt my heart swell as he looked back up at me. He was still cold and shivered slightly but he seemed to be in much better spirits altogether. ‘Should we try to get him clean, do you think? Then maybe give him some food?’
‘Madam, I think that is a very good idea, indeed.’
A couple of minutes later I lowered little Sigurd into a tub of warm water in the kitchen, still wearing my dirty day dress. He struggled slightly but then relented and I was able to massage soap into his entire fur, and then rinse it. Once he was clean I saw what an adorable dog he was and he had stopped shaking.
‘My little Sigurd, darling boy! Who’s a good boy?’ I asked as I wrapped him in a towel and put him on my lap. Fernandez placed a bowl of meat and cheese in front of us and Sigurd sniffed toward it. Carefully, bite for bite, I fed him while Patrick regarded us from a chair across the table.
The puppy fell asleep afterwards and I stayed on the chair. I did not want to wake him up but I knew I had to eventually. After all I still needed to get ready for that dance at Clarissa’s in the evening and even if I mostly wanted to stay at home with Sigurd now I felt I should at least make an appearance if I expected to be invited to other things while visiting.
‘Oh well, darling, I think I need to get ready. You shall stay in my room, of course, though this evening I think you need to remain in the kitchen with the cook.’
At my words the woman, who had been bustling around the kitchen, frowned slightly. She was not as careful with disguising her emotions as Fernandez was. It seemed she did not hold a great love for dogs, either, if her expression was anything to go by. That, I decided, was her loss entirely. I picked Sigurd up and found the maid. My aunt really did not keep much staff.
‘Could you draw up a bath for me, please?’ I asked the girl.
‘Certainly. Would you like me to attend you while bathing?’
‘No thank you,’ I replied after due consideration and then proceeded up the stairs. I had not really had time to have a bath since I arrived and looked forward to it immensely, but I wanted to conduct it in privacy. I was used to having one every day but there simply had not been time earlier in the morning.
Sigurd seemed exhausted and fell asleep at once on the little bed I made for him in a corner. I suppose he was too tired to be afraid of his new surroundings, or maybe he was a brave little dog. It remained to be seen. I deemed it safe to leave him there because it did not look as if he was to be waking up any time soon. Entering the bathroom I found a tub full of steaming water waiting for me and after undressing I sank down into it gratefully. I had time to notice my dress was indeed ruined but there was not a lot to do about that. Later on I would order a few new garments and have them sent here.
The warm water enveloped me and I sank back against the edge of the tub and relaxed. It was strange really, I mused, that even though I had only been in this town for less than twenty-four hours I felt a connection and, if I searched my soul, I did not in fact long for home as much as I had thought I would. Taking a deep breath I sank down with my head beneath the water and remained for a while, listening to how funny all sounds are under the surface.
I emerged again and started to browse the different shampoos and soaps on display, finally settling for one which smelled like roses and vanilla. I lathered my hair and body and rinsed it away, then got out from the tub. It took hours for my hair to dry, so I went back to my room and curled up in bed. To my surprise I felt my eyelids grow heavy almost at once, but it was so comfortable to be clean and curled up in a warm nest of duvets and pillows. I fought the tiredness for some time before giving in and drifting off.
‘Miss? Madam? Madam! Please, you need to wake up and get ready!’ It was the maid’s voice and slowly opened an eye.
‘You must get ready for Clarissa’s evening dance, miss, if you wish to be on time.’
‘Oh, of course,’ I said and sat up, staring at the girl. ‘Goodness, I realise I haven’t even asked you your name. Please, what is it?’
‘Geneva, miss. Now, please come up and get dressed. While you do that, should I take your dog out for you?’
I had almost forgotten about little Sigurd and followed the maid’s glance. He had sat up on his bed and was regarding me bleary-eyed. It seemed he had also been out the entire time.
‘Please, that would be very kind of you. What is the time?’
‘It’s already six! I thought you were awake and didn’t think to check.’
‘It’s alright, it’s not your fault.’ I waved her apology away. ‘Just come back in a little bit and help me with my hair, please. The rest I can do on my own.’
To tell the truth I do not think I would have been so slack back in Manhattan but there was something with the country here which made me very relaxed. I saw little point in stressing it and slid out of bed and started to peruse my frocks, which someone, I suppose Geneva, had hung up in the wardrobe. It was a difficult choice seeing as I did not really know what a dance in this town would be like, but in the end I settled for a glittery affair of which the skirt ended mid calf.
That was when I saw my hair in the mirror and I stopped in utter shock. It looked like a bird’s nest. The only thing saving the situation was the fact that my hair is so heavy it could not actually stand in all directions. I shook my head at the image – Geneva would have a handful. Just then she came back in.
‘Are you ready, madam?’ she asked me while trying not to smile at my hair.
‘I believe so,’ I said gravely. ‘Do what you can, please, Geneva. I must look somewhat presentable when I arrive at Clarissa’s.’
‘Oh I shouldn’t think she has the right to comment in the slightest.’ I stared at her while sitting down in front of the make-up table. She looked slightly ashamed but not enough considering her rude words. When she realised I was watching her in the mirror she pursed her lips before continuing. ‘I do apologise, but Clarissa has a reputation of being, well… Servants talk, you know. Her staff isn’t happy.’
There was not a lot I could say about that, really, so I nodded magnanimously, showing I forgave her slip of tongue.
‘So tell me,’ I said instead while she brushed my hair, ‘has anybody ever been escorted by a butler before?’
She giggled in response. ‘I should say not, but it will certainly be great fun!’
‘Oh, to tell the truth, I’m not so mortified as all that. I thought I would be more uncomfortable, but oddly enough I look forward to the looks I will get. Obviously I couldn’t have it back in Manhattan, but here one must make do. When will my aunt be back, do you think?’
‘She told me to expect her back late tonight, she did.’
‘Oh? Why did she not tell me as much?’
My question was only met with a shrug and I let the conversation die, while watching the progress Geneva made with my hair. About fifteen minutes later it was finally resembling something and yet another quarter of an hour served to present me with a rather impressive hairdo. Geneva had drawn it back from my face, but let it hang lose down my back, and she had donned several large feathers in it. All in all I looked very exotic after she had also applied my make-up. I winked at her with one sooted eye.
‘Marvellous job, Geneva. You may go, I shall come downstairs in a little while after I have said goodbye to Sigurd.’
The little dog in question already seemed to know his name because at my use of it he came waddling over. I presented him with my hand and was rewarded with a soft puppy nose pressed against it. His eyes were fixed on mine and once more my heart flooded over with feeling for the little thing.
‘I have to go away for the evening, darling, but I’ll be back in a few hours. Be a good dog when I’m gone, please. Don’t bully the cook, alright?’
He did not reply, for which I was pretty grateful. The day dogs begin to speak is certainly not something to look forward to. I picked him up and carried him down to the kitchen, since I did not think he could manoeuvre the stairs just yet. The cook still frowned when I deposited him in the kitchen but said nothing about it. With a deep breath I went to the hallway and found Fernandez waiting for me.
I had to draw a little intake of shocked breath. When being surrounded by staff in uniforms for many years you cease to really pay attention to how the person in that uniform looks. I had not made any particular notice of how Fernandez looked when I arrived, or earlier that morning, but now he was dressed in an evening suit of excellent quality. It was not black, I noticed, but rather a dark blue which suited his exotic appearance. His skin was simply a little darker than the Brits and his hair was raven black, and in honour of the evening it was smoothed back. He offered me his arm.
‘Shall we, my lady?’
‘Goodness me, Fernandez, you look very handsome indeed!’
‘Please, call me Ignacio for the evening. That is, though you certainly have already guessed, my name.’
‘Ignacio, how very foreign!’ I exclaimed and he grinned at me.
Together we exited and he opened the car door for me before climbing in next to me. By then it was half past seven, and two hours and twenty seven minutes left until I would stare in astonishment at the scene of a crime.