Lalla Fortescue is my favourite friend when I am staying with Tony and Colton. She has long flaxen hair and shimmering peat-coloured eyes. She speaks less than Tally and Hannah, and her voice is like a bleached rainbow, as her hair. She is small and kinder than they, with more tact, and for this reason I both love her and hate her. I love her because she is dear and I hate her because I am jealous.
Does she have a thing for Felix Terrett, or does he have a thing for her? I don’t know which is the answer, but why do they both acknowledge, through this nonsensical confusion, that Felix and I are an item? It is not true. It is a paradox. Life is a paradox. Will anything ever make sense? Will I ever meet Bridie Domaille?
Lalla is more attractive than I in face, and more attractive still in disposition. Felix is a tease—a gallant, chivalrous one, it is true—but a tease. And because he cannot be both an insensitive quipper and a gentleman, I call him the head groom—neither dung-spattered stable boy nor knight in shining armour.
‘Tis childish, I know. As is our old nickname for Felicity O’Hara—‘Crown Prince Charles’, as her stature is so huge and her calves so swollen with athletic prowess. Do not ask me why we called her so, apart from that and childish ignorance and reasonless giggles; prideful lechery lent her to royalty, for reasons unknown to her slanderers, and ‘Charles’ seemed to be a manly name.
“How is the swimming?” Lalla inquired of me, her voice of dewdrops caught in cobwebs. She gazed up at me, eyes like modest spiders in the midst of the web, and I smiled back at my good friend.
“Not bad,” I replied. “I don’t suppose you’ll be joining me these next few months?”
“I would…” she began obligingly, but honesty won, as it always does with Lalla Fortescue, and she crinkled her textured nose with decision. “No; I don’t think so.”
Lalla is no sportswoman, and nor is she an academic. She is a musician, primarily, and lives in a paradise of silken melodies and lilac tunes. Her favourite leitmotif is the fame-remembered Greensleeves, which she sings as a pop song, hums as a ballad, beats as a chant, squalls as a shanty, whistles as a fanfare, or croons as a lullaby, depending on both her mood and her intention. She has changed the words forty-six times, if words there were in the first place, and knows each of her own forty-six verses—as do her long-suffering audience! But Greensleeves and its numerous variants never grow old or dull, and nor does Lalla Fortescue.
“You know I’ve been quite friendly with your sister Bridie lately?” thus Lalla, legs swinging from the six-barred railing on which she perched.
“No.” What could I do but stare?
“The classes changed at the start of the year, and she didn’t happen to be with her friends. And nor did I, save for our charming Crown Prince Charles, who hasn’t been my favourite person since she spiked my drink.”
“She did what?” I muttered in passing. But there was a more pressing interest which had been presented to me, and I voice my surpriséd query more definitely than the muttering. “So you’ve been talking to Bridie?”
“Yes.” She did not scrutinize me, but I knew she was subtly scanning my face for a reaction beneath her spiders’-legs eyelashes.
“Can you tell me about her?” I asked eagerly.
“You don’t know much?” she returned, gently, but not displaying blatant sympathy, as was her tactful way.
And I, not wanting to answer or to ask, could only be obscure. “Did she say anything about a window sill?” I said.
“No. Should she have done?” Lalla Fortescue’s expression was puzzled, but she patted my knee with wordless affection, and I knew she felt emotion for the wafery nature of my communication with my sister Bridie.
“How did Prince Charlie come to spike your drink?” I said instead, thereby completing our queer exchange of rhetorical questions.
Lalla squinted absently at the bike sheds across the lawn. “The drinking started three years ago, as you know,” she said.
“I never heard exactly how it did start.”
“I don’t suppose you did. It was your sister Bridie who was here at the time.”
“I know,” I said.
An aloof half-hummed rendition of Greensleeves, which drifted across from the spidery girl perched on the railings over yonder, indicated to me that she was not inclined to elaborate.