Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Continuing the waaaay backstory of Mal's parents.



Part 3

Tea Time and Riding

* * *

Turned out when she said “tea,” she really meant “food.”

Delicate, fancy, exotic little bites of food, but food nonetheless. Dean wondered how Miss Eugenia had found the time to whip up such prodigious quantities of fripperies without breaking the Sabbath or skipping church, but somehow she had. There were delicate little bite-sized sandwiches with cucumbers in ’em and hard-boiled eggs with the yolks whipped up into a creamy filling and stuffed back in. Some kind of salad made of couscous the size of salmon eggs with a light tasty herbal dressing. Fancy-shaped biscuits (she called ’em “scones”) served with strawberry jam and whipped cream. Cookies (funnily enough, those were the things she called “biscuits”) with white sugar frosting and preserved cherries, and cookies filled with pieces of stem ginger. Little bitty fruit tarts with fresh raspberries in ’em.

He managed to convey his marvel at all the fine delicacies without sounding like he was accusing her of breaking the Sabbath.

“Oh, I bake every Saturday, Mr Reynolds—Dean. I prepared most of this food yesterday, before I went to the fair. It wasn’t but five or ten minutes’ work to assemble it today, and I did that after church, while I was waiting for you to arrive.”

While she was waiting for him—that sounded nice.

“That way I can entertain visitors on Sunday, without feeling like I’m breaking the spirit of the Lord’s Day of Rest by spending the day cooking in the kitchen.”

“Oh,” he said, trying to sound as if he meant how clever she was to plan ahead like that. “So you entertain visitors every Sunday, then?” Dang it, it came out sounding jealous and accusatory anyway! As if he had any right to such feelings. He’d only just properly met her the day before.

“I do,” she answered, looking him in the eye. “I’m an outsider, but I’ve come to Shadow to live and work. I think it’s important to get to know the people in this community. So, each Sunday since my arrival, I’ve invited the parents of my students, the church elders, the principal ranch owners—”

Dean was about to retort that he was a principal ranch owner in these parts, when she continued, “—but I didn’t want to invite you as part of a crowd, so I didn’t ask anyone else at church today.” His disgruntlement evaporated as she gave him a friendly smile, and he was glad he hadn’t made the testy, hot-headed comment. “Now, I believe you take your coffee with cream, no sugar, isn’t that right, Mr R—Dean?”

“How’d you kno—? I mean—yes, please, Miss Jeannie.”

“You never take tea,” she remarked matter-of-factly, as she poured some heavenly-smelling coffee from the pot and added just the right amount of cream. “But I’ve noticed you prefer your coffee this way.” She paused and regarded his nonplussed expression with some amusement. “Someday, I’ll get you to try some proper Londinium tea. It isn’t the sad stew of leaves you think it is—you’d really enjoy it. But until then, I’ll be glad to serve you coffee.”

He took a sip of coffee with the best attempt at nonchalantry he could muster. Truth was that he was completely spun about. This prodigy of a high-class teacher from Londinium had singled him out for a solo invitation, had noticed details like his regular attendance at church, his preference for coffee over tea—even how he liked his coffee. Contrary to his expectation, Miz MacLeod and the Shepherd weren’t present as chaperones—hadn’t interrupted their little tea party even once. They were given complete privacy, which was extraordinary, as Miz MacLeod was famous the whole country ’round as a busybody who couldn’t keep out of other folks’ affairs. Had he not known otherwise, he would have sworn this was Miss Jeannie’s own house, not the Shepherd’s. Dean was rapidly coming to the conclusion that Miss Jeannie had complete command of the situation and had engineered it to suit her.

They talked, and ate, and talked some more, a regular getting-to-know-you. Despite that she was a sophisticated Londinium lady from the Core and he’d made so many gaffes she had every right to think of him as an underbred yokel, they got on very well, like peas in a pod. She seemed to be genuinely curious about life on Shadow, the Northside community, about ranching—even about his life, though he didn’t attach particular meaning to those questions, much as he’d like to. Weren’t egotistical enough to think she meant anything more than general friendly interest at this point in time, though he hoped he could build on that. Her questions were thoughtful and intelligent, and showed she’d either studied up on ranching ahead of time, or had been paying prodigious close attention since her arrival on Shadow. He’d never been off-world, and was genuinely curious about the Core and the ways of Core-folk, or at least in the ways of the one particular Core folk in whose company he was spending this afternoon. Time flew like an arrow as they swapped stories, and before he knew it, it was getting to be late in the afternoon. Much as he’d like to prolong the visit, he had duties back at the ranch, and needed to take his leave. He stood and held his hat in hand.

“Thank you, Miss Weirleigh-Wiggles—”

“Please just call me Eugenia.”

“Jeannie Dub it is. Thank you for the so-called ‘tea’.”

“It is called tea!”

“Sandwiches are tea. Salad is tea,” he enumerated, counting them off on his fingers. “Biscuits are tea. No wait, biscuits are scones, and cookies are biscuits—”

“Tea-time. The mid-afternoon meal.”

“—And, turns out, even coffee is tea,” he teased. “Learned quite a few new things today. And one of ’em is, how quickly time flies when I’m in your winsome company. I find the clock reads four pm, when I’m sure I ain’t been here even an hour yet. I’m afraid you owe me the missing two hours on credit. I’ll expect you to pay me back in kind. So now it’s my turn to issue an invitation. Would you like to go riding with me next Saturday? And afterwards, maybe we could grab a cup of coffee?”

She smiled, her eyes dancing with mischief. “I’d love to. And if ‘coffee’ means tea, then yes to that as well.”

* * *

She rode like a natural-born horsewoman.

Dean had made careful inquiries, gathering data on her riding skills. Koretsky brothers told him they reckoned she could ride, and Old Jackson, jawing away at The Taproom one night, had confirmed it when he said that Miss W.-W. had “spent years in a barn studyin’ quotations.” Took him a while to make any sense of that outlandish bit of intel, but after chewing it over for a bit, Dean interpreted it to mean that Jackson (an uneducated yokel even by Shadow standards) had overheard Miss W.-W. talkin’ about studying equitation at a stable. Which was nothin’ more ’n a fancy Core way of sayin’ she could really ride. This info correlated with what Miss Farrell apprised him of: namely, that Miss Eugenia had brought with her some kind of fancy Core-world riding clothes. On that basis, he figured he had better pull out all the stops. So instead of mounting her on the reliable but placid Fern, he’d saddled up the spirited Isolde, his finest mare and a glorious sight to behold when she galloped across the open country.

He found he had no complaints about the exotic riding duds. (She called them “jodhpurs.”) No one ’round Shadow, at least this side of Edmunds City, wore clothes like that when riding, but nosirree, he had no complaints whatsoever about the form-fitting garments. Particularly when he rode just a bit behind Miss Jeannie Dub.

Clearly wasn’t her first time sittin’ a-horseback. Miss Jeannie’s tight pants merely accentuated her seat. Nevermind that it was an exotic Londinium style of sittin’ a horse, and contrasted oddly with the Western tack. She rode Isolde like an expert. As he rode next to her on Sunny Jim, one of his regular stock horses, Dean found himself wishing that he and Miss Jeannie might ride together more often. Every day, if she’d let him.

When they returned to the home paddock after the ride, Miss Jeannie was full of praises—for his ranch, for the beauty of the snow-clad mountains that ringed it, and for the magnificent Isolde.

“Can’t accept no credit for the ranch, Miss Jeannie, nor for the beauty of the mountains. That’s God’s doing. And mayhap my great-grandfather’s, for having the sense to stake his claim in this valley when Shadow’s Northside was first settled.” Dean had arranged for a couple of the hands to take care of the horses and tack, a job he would’ve ordinarily done himself. The fellas knew the boss wanted to focus his attention on his guest, and quietly led the horses away, leaving Dean and Miss Jeannie standing by the paddock fence. “As for Isolde—well, you seen for yourself how she moves. Prettier sight you never will behold—can be improved upon only by mounting a skilled rider such as yourself—”

“Speaking of which, thank you so much for your generosity in lending me the use of a mount. I know it costs a fair amount to maintain a horse—”

“Pshaw, Miss Jeannie. You can see I got horses to spare. I’d be happy to mount you any time you have the inclination.”

She looked at him sharply, and he ran that last bit over in his head again. 哦天啊 Ò tiān ā, if she thought he meant—. “To ride, I mean. Any time you have the inclination to ride, it would be my pleasure to mount you.” Oh, 糟糕 zāogāo, he was just digging himself a deeper and deeper hole, if Jeannie’s shocked expression was anything to judge by. “On a horse. I mean, doin’ it on a horse.” Oh, Lord, this was just gettin’ worse and worse. He shut his mouth. Wanted to shut his eyes, too, and maybe go crawl in a hole. He held her gaze, however, and tried to brazen it out with cocky bravado—but it weren’t no good. He’d never been completely able to control his blushing. Laughter bubbled up in Miss Jeannie’s eyes, displacing the scandalized expression and finally spilling over into her voice, as he meanwhile turned an embarrassing shade of beet-red.

“Coffee,” he announced gruffly, as her musical laughter filled the air. “Inside.” He turned abruptly and led the way toward the substantial ranch house. He stomped onward for a pace or two before he realized he’d committed yet another social error in leaving his guest behind, so he turned back and attempted to offer her his arm. He was still so flustered that his half-assed attempt at gallantry came off lookin’ more like a lewd gesture, and Jeannie’s laughter redoubled. Gorram ruttin’ hell. He felt like the world’s biggest fool. “You comin’?” he all but demanded.

“Oh, heavens, Mr Reynolds!” she exclaimed between outright whoops of laughter. “Am I coming? Oh, to be sure!”

* * *




哦天啊 Ò tiān ā [Oh God (literally “sky” or “heaven”)]

糟糕 zāogāo [darn, crap]

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Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:32 AM


I see Mal on the horizon. :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012 4:47 AM


>Turned out when she said “tea,” she really meant “food.”

So very quintessentially British, up to and including said food.

But how DID she know what coffee he takes? Did she ask around, and do Shadowians pay enough attention to know?

Dean: smooooooth. Perhaps for your next effort to impress her, you could fall on your face?

Friday, December 28, 2012 3:33 PM


I love the dialogue, it made me chuckle then laugh outright by the end of it. I can see so much of Mal in Dean. So very shiny, Ebfiddler - thank you! Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, December 28, 2012 4:58 PM


Thanks for your comments! I had a lot of fun writing this section. Glad you all can see some of Mal in his parents. Bytemite: well, falling on his face would be memorable, wouldn't it?


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver