Dell and Dale waited patiently in the winter room of the Greenfield’s townhouse. The white plaster walls of the room were a stark contrast to the dark oak bookshelves that ran along the interior walls. The front curtains were drawn closed, and the myriad oil lamps had been lit, filling the room with yellow effulgence.
Barrett’s two brothers sat in the high-backed chairs at the far end of the room, while his father paced near the window.
“Good,” he said, as Barrett entered the room, “Barrett. Dell and Dale were about to begin where they left off yesterday. It seems they are determined to obey this unnatural habit. Please correct them.”
Barrett nodded and looked sternly toward the two boys. Dell and Dale were alike as possible, despite their disparate ages; Dell was two years younger than Barrett, and Dale another two. Both boys shared the blue-gray eyes of the Greenfield family, but were well on their way toward reaching their father’s immense stature. Now they sulked in their chairs, awaiting their chastisement.
“Dell, Dale,” Barrett began, “When one commences a lesson after a period of reflection, one must never resume at the point of the last conclusion. Rather, one must begin the lesson with the knowledge one has mastered, before proceeding to the knowledge that is yet to be gained. If you persist in inane behavior, let this inane platitude be your guide: take a step back before setting out on a journey, to make sure your house is secure.”
“Well done,” Bartle observed, “Barrett, please begin with politics, then proceed to mathematics.”
“Yes sir,” Barrett answered, and then turned to Dale.
“Dale, define the geopolitical structure.”
Dale breathed a sigh of relief: standing on well charted ground, and stood up.
“The world is divided by the King into divisions.” Bartle frowned at this introduction, but remained quiet. Dale noticed the frown and continued on uneasily.
“The largest of these divisions is the entire Kingdom, which spans the flat part of the globe from the mountains in the east to the ocean in the west. The Kingdom is divided into Protectorates, which are at the big cities, and numbered from Northwest to Southeast. The Protectorates are divided into Sectorates, which are evenly spaced and numbered within a Protectorate from Southwest to Northeast. In some Sectorates there are Villages. In some Sectorates there are no Villages. We are in the Village of Grainger in the Sectorate of Terriad in the Gnolla Protectorate.”
“Good, Dale,” Barrett answered, “but you should use the numbers instead of the names.”
“That is…” Dale corrected himself, “we are in the Village of Grainger in the THIRD Sectorate of the SECOND Protectorate.”
“Good,” Barrett answered, and looked at Bartle, who nodded.
“Now, Dale, explain to us the Law of Domains”
“The Law of Domains states that the set of all of the dependent variable’s values is the domain of a function, while the set of all the values for the independent variable is the range.”
“Wrong!” Dell yelled, and then quieted as Bartle’s stare came down on him. “You have it backward, Dale. It’s the independent variable whose values are the domain. The dependent variable is with the range.”
“Correct, Dell.” Bartle interjected, “Now explain for us the varying Fallacies of Relevance.”
Dale sat and Dell rose.
“The Fallacies of Relevance are thirteen in number. They are: Coercion, Abuse, Circumstance, Ignorance, Pity, Demagoguery, Irrelevant Authority, Interpolation, Extrapolation, False Cause, Circular Argument, Presumptive Premises, and Irrelevance of Conclusion.”
“Well done,” Barrett concurred. “Now explain the Fallacy of Extrapolation.”
“Very well,” Dell sighed, “The Fallacy of Extrapolation occurs when what is true in a particular specific case is assumed to be true in general, without consideration of whether the specific case is in fact typical or symptomatic of the larger case that is being proven.”
“Poorly spoken, Dell” Bartle began, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. “Damnation!” he cursed, “They’re early as always!” With that he put his marker book down and strode out of the room toward the foyer.
“When does YOUR lesson start, Barrett?” Dale asked him snidely.
“Hush. Who’s here for dinner?”
“You mean you don’t know?” Dell chuckled.
Barrett felt his gut lurch, for after the indulgent afternoon he had spent, nursing his fears and licking old wounds, this was a dangerous time to be confronting anyone dangerous. And that is exactly what he detected in Dell’s tone.
And as he heard voices at the door, his fears were confirmed. It was indeed the family of Lydia Wolfwood, come to call.
She stood in the foyer, with the soft glow of the oil lamps lighting her features. Barrett exercised all of his self-control to remain unaffected. Beside her stood her father, Havoc Wolfwood, and his wife Dana. Havoc was built like Barrett’s father, shorter, but solid and deeply tanned, with a thick mane of gold hair framing a square face and determined chin. His wife, Dana, was older than her years, her hair having gone white. The effect against her pale skin was almost appalling. Dana Wolfwood’s skittish eyes bounced around the room, before falling on Barrett. A thin smile crept across her face.
“Early again, eh, Wolfwood?” Bartle almost growled as he gestured them into the winter room before turning sharply toward the younger boys and barking: “Dell, Dale, fetch more chairs from the storeroom.”
“Dana was confused again,” Havoc Wolfwood explained, as his wife lowered her eyes, “She swore we were late, and wouldn’t give me a moment of peace until we started out.”
“No trouble,” Bartle replied, “we were just in the middle of lessons for the younger boys. We’ll put them off until later.” He walked back into the winter room, Havoc following with his wife and daughter behind. As Havoc passed Barrett, he gave him an appraising glance, much as he might give a breeding stock steer. Barrett nodded in response, and smiled at Dana and Lydia as they passed him.
“Awfully late to be giving lessons, Greenfield,” Havoc said, as he deposited himself into one of the menacing chairs, “You wouldn’t have had this problem if you’d been prompt in your lessons, as we are in the Wolfwood House.”
“An interesting theory, Wolfwood, but we prefer several lessons, staggered through the afternoon and evening, so as to more fully replicate the natural occurrence of problems.”
Dell and Dale bustled in with more chairs, which they placed neatly along the walls. They exited again, and Bartle took his seat by the window, gesturing Dana and Lydia to sit as well.
Barrett studiously avoided looking at Lydia, concentrating instead on the features of her father. Havoc grinned at Bartle Greenfield’s reply, and offered curtly:
“If you want to spoil your boys, that is your affair. Still for all intents and purposes you have done a fair job with this one.” He gestured toward Barrett.
Barrett’s eyes locked into a cold, fixed glare as they guests and his father turned to examine him. He was saved from their scrutiny by the loud entrance of his mother, bursting through into the foyer with her daughters in tow.
“Already! Well, it’s fortunate we were prepared in advance! Havoc, Dana, how are you? Lydia! You’ve grown in the last two days, I swear! Come! You will have refreshment. Just tell my daughters what you would like, and they will bring it.”
Well trained, Rose, Iris, and Clara lined up behind their mother and awaited their instructions. In a moment they were gone, executing their orders as Leda Greenfield joined the guests. When she had taken a chair, Barrett finally joined them, settling onto a seat neither too near or too far from Lydia.
“It has been too long since we have dined together, Dana. I believe that we have not had the pleasure since Clara’s little Leda was announced. Still, it is not unusual with so much work to do that there is little time for the luxuries of the city. We have more to do than socialize!”
“Hah!” Havoc snorted, “You are talking to the wrong woman, Leda. Dana is of the opinion that life is nothing but the social. She neglects the other realms of being in favor of that which is least productive.”
“Havoc,” Dana weakly protested, “You know that is not true.”
“How are your studies?” Bartle interrupted, pointedly drawing attention to Lydia to divert it from her mother. Barrett’s stomach muscles tightened, preparing himself for the onslaught of her voice.
“They are going well,” she answered, “But not as well as they might. I am perhaps hampered by my devotion to disparate majorities of interest. I recognize in myself a failure to adequately apportion my time, which, unfortunately, prevents me from reaching my full potential.”
“Recognizing it is half the battle,” Dana offered, defending her daughter from this unusual confession.
“That remains to be seen,” Lydia continued, “As Barrett can no doubt affirm, our studies of strategy indicate that the plan of attack is indeed critical to success, but continuous re-evaluation and adaptation are likewise crucial.”
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Dana offered.
“Bah! Platitudes!” Havoc spat. “When a thing is done, it is done. Done poorly is done poorly and done well is done well. But I have no fears for Lydia. She merely refers to her desire to join the Court of Nature.”
“It was one of our hopes for Barrett as well,” Leda added. “But he seems to show proclivity toward economics and management. He has a rare eye for cattle.”
“Yes, I fear that only one of our mature class will reach the Court,” Lydia responded.
“You speak of Calvin Applewood?” Bartle asked.
“Yes,” Lydia answered, “although I have no doubt that Barrett could attain that post if he sought it.” She looked straight at Barrett, smiling.
I will tell them!
As the eyes of the guest fell on Barrett once more, he found himself compelled to respond.
“It is a question of maximizing one’s resources, as Lydia indicated earlier. Strategy is not decided based solely on the conditions of the battlefield, or the desired objective, but also upon the resources one has available. It is nonsense for me to seek the Court of Nature if my talents are best suited elsewhere. Where I to yield to my desire to join the Court, I would do a disservice to the Court, this village, and myself. To complete the analogy, if possible, I must seek a battlefield appropriate to my resources.”
“Very true,” Havoc nodded, “Very true. Strategy says just that.”
Barrett nodded at Havoc, and glanced back at Lydia, whose smile was as intractable and simultaneously profound.
Barrett’s sisters returned with a tray of wineglasses, which they distributed to the guests. Barrett’s next youngest brother, Archer followed, bringing two decanters of wine, which he meted out in the wake of his sisters. All were silent for a moment.
“Well then. With such weighty matters as deciding the futures of our young now briefly and insufficiently discussed, let us turn toward the table.” With that outburst Leda Greenfield rose, and gestured toward the dining room, nodding Dell and Dale toward the kitchen to bring out the fare.
Barrett edged his way through the remainder of the evening, savoring each exchange with Lydia, while inwardly trying to tamp down a growing unease at the purpose of this dinner. The continuous distraction of Havoc and Bartle’s aggressive rivalry was poised against the disconcerting silence of Dana Wolfwood. Barrett fought against reverie, placing himself at the periphery of conversation with Lydia, his sisters, and Havoc Wolfwood. But he could not shake the appraising looks that the Wolfwoods gave him, nor the equivalent notice given Lydia by his parents. This was becoming frighteningly obvious, and it stirred Barrett to a near ecstasy of anticipation and dread.
When at last the meal was done, Leda invited Lydia and Dana to view the garden, while Havoc and Bartle adjourned to the winter room. Barrett was left to join his sisters and brothers in clearing the table and returning the kitchen to order.
Working as hard as he could, Barrett tried not to notice the smiles of his sisters and the smirks of his younger brothers. He avoided all efforts to lure him into conversation:
“Lydia is very attractive, isn’t she, Barrett?” Clara asked him.
“Empirically, yes.” Barrett answered, and returned to cleaning the pans.
“You know, the Wolfwoods’ land borders ours on at least eighty percent run on the western side. Doesn’t it, Barrett?”
“Actually it is closer to 60 percent, Archer, but their parcel extends on the southern border as well, and including that part of the perimeter, your figure might be correct.”
“Lydia has her mother’s coloring, doesn’t she, Barrett?”
“That is obvious, Iris.”
The assault continued unabated until Leda, Dana, and Lydia returned from their tour of the Grounds. Upon their entry into the house, they proceeded to the parlor. Leda summoned Barrett after a few minutes.
Barrett walked, stone-faced, into the parlor. Leda and Dana had drawn up chairs around the cold fireplace, while Lydia was relaxing in a stuffed chair by the rear window. Leda gestured Barrett toward the sofa.
“Let your sisters finish in the kitchen, Barrett. The boys have studies to attend to. Your father might be some time in the winter room.”
“Lydia told us the most interesting story about you while we were in the garden.” Barrett’s skin grew cold, and he glanced at Lydia, who only smiled that same obstinate smile.
“I had no idea you had drawn cartoons when you were in Village School.” Leda grimaced as she said the word ‘cartoons.’
“Yes, it’s true.” Barrett responded.
“Why did we never hear of this at home?”
“There was no need. It had no meaning.”
“Exactly. It was a frivolous activity, was it not?”
Dana looked embarrassed, and Lydia’s smile grew a touch harder, but Barrett eased. He had handled this in the past, and it was nothing new to defend.
“Mother, you misconstrue. When I say ‘meaningless,’ I am intending to imply that the drawing of cartoons has no bearing on anything outside of the classroom. What you infer, I believe, is that the activity of drawing cartoons is a meaningless one, which is far from the case. Allow me to provide more background, which perhaps Lydia felt was unimportant to her story.
“You are aware that the practice of artistic representation continues in Village School? I understood that it has been in place since before you attended…”
“Yes, it has,” Leda answered, “but artistic representation is quite different from cartooning.”
“Potentially, yes,” Barrett continued, “but in this instance, it is quite similar. I believe you have committed the Fallacy of Interpolation. In general, cartooning is indeed frivolous. The comic artistic representation of individuals, scenery, or animals is pointless. What has been often overlooked, however, is the practical aspect of the cartoon as a method for rapid depiction. While traditional artistic representation stresses the accuracy of the image, cartooning stresses the recognition of salient features in the target of the image. While the artistic image may convey a truer image, the cartoon conveys the essentials of the image in the most expeditious manner. The benefits are twofold. First, the exercise of cartooning helps to train the mind to quickly recognize salient features. The import of this skill is obvious. Second, the exercise of cartooning trains the hand to produce rapid, meaningful images. This practice could be of great use in communication. For example, in the study of non-stationary animals, the use of cartooning to capture the essentials of the animals mode of movement is of great use in understanding the mechanics of their motion.
“I explained all of this to the Schoolmasters, and they were persuaded by my arguments. Although I agreed to discontinue the practice of cartooning, due to my choice of several Schoolmasters as the objects of my study.”
Leda looked at Dana and Lydia with a look of triumph.
“Dana,” Leda smugly began, “I must show you the new cabinets that Bartle has designed for me.” Rising, she nodded to Lydia and Barrett, and led Dana from the room.
The queasiness returned to Barrett’s gut. He looked after his mother for longer than was necessary, for he could feel Lydia’s eyes on him. Finally, he turned and met her gaze. It was almost physically painful, feeling the dull ache of his heart in concert with the dizzy fear that his mind embraced.
“You amaze me, Barrett,” Lydia said calmly.
“How so?” Barrett whispered. Stunned neither by her words or the full beckoning lips that spoke them, but by the very unreality of both.
“Your mother is no fool, but she utterly failed to see the various fallacies in your argument. For that matter, so did the Schoolmasters.”
“Perhaps you are mistaken.”
“No. I don’t believe I am. And you don’t either.”
Barrett was silent, waiting for her to continue. He had nothing to say to Lydia that would not damn him. He wanted, above all, to throw himself at her feet and declare his love, declare that she could hurt him all she wanted, as long as she forgave him for what he was. But he could not do that. His instinct for self-preservation was paramount, even in the face of her myriad charms.
“Why do you say nothing?” Lydia asked.
“What is there to say,” Barrett answered, “when you have reached your conclusion.”
“I might be wrong…” Lydia replied, tentatively, almost fearfully. Barrett suffered an intense stab of hope, but remained composed.
“Convince me that I am wrong…”
Barrett simply stared at her, taking in her features and longing for something he could say - some way to preserve both hope and survival. But he could think of nothing, because she was right. So he sat there, paralyzed by an unquenchable desire and a resolute fear of destruction.
She might have decided for him, or spurred him to decide, but the door to the winter room opened, and the voices of Bartle and Havoc were heard in the foyer, laughing.
Lydia cast a fixed, pregnant gaze on Barrett, who returned it with cold resolve, before Havoc called for them in the foyer.
“Dana! Lydia! Come on, we’re going!”
Barrett followed Lydia out into the foyer, where the door stood ajar, and Havoc warmly shook hands with first Bartle, and then Leda.
“A very rewarding evening. We must do this again, soon.”
“Yes,” Bartle responded, “I believe we have come to understanding and have only to cement our agreements.”
“I’m so satisfied, Leda,” Dana agreed. “So satisfied!”
“Well, it’s getting late,” Leda replied, somewhat abruptly, “Dana, Lydia, I appreciate your companionship this evening. Havoc, it is always fulfilling to have you visit our home.”
Barrett muttered goodbyes to Havoc and Dana, and nodded to Lydia, who left without a word, only throwing one cacophony smile back over her shoulder.
The door swung closed.