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Fishwife (AB #2)
“Funny you should ask now…” Mr. Keene Graying responded, looking around at the old driver, “For the trips nearly done... But of course I'll oblige, good fellow - you've been a perfectly able driver and an even more perfectly silent companion.”
The driver tipped his worn black hat over his eyes so they could roll upwards without being seen and gave a rather loud cough. The footman next to him nearly giggled, but quickly stifled the sound with a fake hack of his own.
“Well now, keep that lot to yourselves!” Mr. Graying exclaimed, making a show of holding his handkerchief to his mouth, “Can't have any mark on my spotless health, I've a job to do.” He removed the handkerchief and brought a hand up to his chin.
“Well let's see here, you asked who I was, quite strange, man, that's quite strange. We've been riding for over six hours to be sure – but of course I'll answer all the same.”
A sluggish smile tugged at the gent's lips as he prepared for his lengthy introduction. The footman gave the driver a look and a motion, both plainly begging, ‘Please blow my brains out before this ass starts braying itself praises.'
“Ah. Well, to start with, I'm Mr. Keene Graying. The King's man I am,” a lame chuckle escaped his lips before continuing, “It seems I can add poet to my list of occupations.”
The driver prepared to snap at his passenger with the long riding whip. The footman grinned, but nevertheless stopped his friend from going so far as to inflict bodily harm.
“Anyways, I'm a government official, no title, but I do a little of this and a little more of that, and maybe in a few years… Ah well. You let me wander off into that area. Hah. Hadn't planned to let my aspirations slip in front of you wily fellows,” he let out another little guffaw, “Where was I? Oh yes, well you could say I'm an intelligent man, quite an asset you know, with a good patch of hair on my head too. Hah. That's more than most government workers can say!” He scratched the thinning strands on his head before moving on, “And with this economy in such a state, they found me as just the man to help. Been working on the crisis for just a few weeks now. Well, back to why I'm here, they've already sent me on a mission, they have! See here. There's this man, a fisherman to be exact…and he's made quite a bit of profit. Catches more and better fish than the whole world market of fish sellers and catchers could dream of. His Majesty's been thinking we could learn something from this shabby, though I daresay rich, country fellow. So this, my good men, is quite who I am and where I'm going. Find this fisherman and steel his success secrets. Short and sweet, eh?”
The carriage came to a jerky halt and the footman threw open the passenger door with glee.
“Your fish kingdom awaits, Sire,” he snickered. The driver leered down at a perplexed Keene as he struggled off the coach onto the road.
“I asked who the hell you thought you were, not what kind of pompous gent you could describe yourself as, Official Pig.”
With a snap of the reins, the driver started his teaming horses and the footman leaped up to his side, both leaving a shocked Mr. Graying in the dusty swirl of their wake.
“Such insolence the lower class has these days!” Keene exclaimed, shaking grime off his clothes along with his stupor, “We clothe them, we feed them, we pay them, and they leave us in the middle of the road. Sometimes, it is as if they - Ah well, best not to dwell,” he mused, though his face was still a glaring red and his monologue was full of sputtering and grimaces. Stomping off like an unhappy child, Mr. Graying made his way up the ever-winding path. Hopefully, he was going the right direction.
The government man was more used to offices and luncheons than daylong walks on desolate roads, and he soon found himself with lead-filled limbs and a hell of a cough. He was about to lie down and wait for a carriage to pass by, when he caught a glimpse of a figure in a large tattered summer shirt.
“Ah! Sir!” Graying cried waving his hat at the man, “Sir! If you would please stop, man, and lend me a hand!”
The man turned in the direction of the voice, but never stopped his steady, forward pace. Mr. Graying gave his last smidge of energy to match his lengthy strides.
“Please,” he wheezed, searching the man's leathery face, “have some pity and stop for a moment's breath.”
“Can't,” the man replied, continuing his pace, “Got someplace to go.” At closer examination, Graying could see that the stranger' toes were completely exposed by the holes in his boots. He had some damned crooked teeth, too.
“As do I, friend,” said Graying, “But could you tell me if I'm going there?” The walking man took a bit more interest,
“Where you headed? And how's come you don't know where is where?”
“I'm to go to the town of _________.” replied the official, “to see fisherman Thomas Rush. My carriage, unfortunately had to leave me here on this road, and I've no idea of my whereabouts.” He noticeably grumbled the last part.
“No idea of my whereabouts,” the wanderer repeated, giving a low whistle, “Well, hereabouts roads are made for following, so I would do that if I was walking your direction. But as for that fisherman of _________, damned insane she is.”
“Insane?” chuckled Graying, “Hah, well I've known quite a few successful fellows to be insane, and I do believe the fisherman is male, haha. Had a bit too much cheap stuff? Not good fellow, I say not good at all.”
“Oh I know what you say and know what I say and I usually mean it,” the man countered gravely, “So you beware that fisherman, that crazy one,” he paused, “The man's a nice chap, though,” he said picking up his pace so that the lagging Mr. Greying could no longer follow it, “I suggest you try to get on with him.”
Left in the wake once more, Greying stood staring after the traveler.
“Queer one,” he huffed, “Can't make a farthing of sense out of it.”
The king's man proceeded up the road as the wanderer had dictated, nonetheless.
At the nearly illegible sign reading ‘Thomas Rush, Fisherman' Graying nearly sank to his knees in pious thanks. He tottered up to the thatch-roofed cottage and collapsed against the door, his balding head knocking it instead of his hands.
“Woman!” a voice behind the door barked, “You been playing witch games again? What's all that thumping?” Greying couldn't make out the complete reply from the woman's voice, as it was soft and songbird sweet, but he was able to decipher the words ‘someone at the door.' Before he could remove his eavesdropping ear from the entrance, Keene found himself tumbling into the cottage. The man who had previously opened the door eyed the Mr. Graying on his welcome mat with a vicious suspicion.
“You some kind of solicitor?” he grumbled, kicking at the still-floored Graying, “We don't need nuffing, so poke your grimy nose up some other poor fisherman.”
“F-fish, yes,” Graying huffed, catching at the foot that had been repeatedly digging into his ribs, “I've c-come about the fish! For the King's love, could you stop that?”
“Dear,” whispered a wind chime voice, “He's come about fish.” The speaker quieted to the slightest stream of sound, “That probably means profit, yes?” As Greying looked up from his splayed position, his eyes fixated on the whisper's owner, devouring its pale autumn sky skin framed by chestnut hair. Two eyes so light grey they might fade out of the angled face reflected his admiration. Strawberry lips formed a supple smile and coerced him into standing. Keith Greying was completely enchanted by the charming wife of a senile fisherman.
The picture of a woman removed her hand from her husband's shoulder, as he loped along agitatedly, all grumbles, and offered it to Greying. He looked at it for a moment, unsure of how to proceed for the first time in his life, and then decided to bestow the politest of slobbery kisses upon the offered delicacy. The woman neither grimaced nor pulled away, her smile merely increased in warmth, if that was possible.
“Mrs. Lorelai Rush,” she offered dipping her body into a curtsy, “ You'll have to pardon my husband. He works so hard that I've come to be fond of his regular gruffness.” Lorelai's face took on an adoring expression that left Greying gasping for sense, a fish in open air.
“…Though I'm dreadfully sorry if his attitude has inconvenienced you, such a nice gentleman as yourself, “ her soft tones crooned, “Though I do not yet know your name…”
“Mr. K-keene…ah…well. Graying! My names Mr. Graying!” he shouted rather absurdly, adding to the redness of his already mortified complexion. Had he been any redder, one might have mistaken his head for large, freshly cut ham.