“Ius Primae Noctis”
by E.O. Costello
James Meffit, Franklin Stagg, P’ina, Orrin F.X. Brush © E.O. Costello
Rosie Baumgartner © M. Mitchell Marmel
Sam Brunswick © Costello/Marmel
Katie MacArran, Athena Moorefield, the Bronsteils © J.T. Urie
Depend on it. When a mel wakes up in bed and discovers that he has both of his paws on the rump of a young and extremely healthy femmefur, it focuses the mind wonderfully.
Having sufficiently focused my mind, if not my eyes, I began to panic, wondering what in the name of Yahweh had happened.
My pince-nez were somewhere – certainly not on my nose – so I had a little difficulty sorting out where I was. A gentle craning of the neck, so as not to disturb my companion, revealed the following:
Yes, I was in my own bedroom. No, I did not have a stitch of clothing on. Nor did the young femmefur who was peacefully sleeping on top of me. The young femmefur in question being Athena Moorefield, a mephitess who had been introduced to me scant days before by Katie MacArran, the Duchess of Strathdern. The status of clothing was readily apparent, since the bedclothes were somewhere I knew not, and there was sunlight streaming through an open window.
This last point was somewhat unavoidable, since the bed had been moved (how?!) so that a good portion of it was in front of the window, thus affording the denizens of the second floor of the New Haven Embassy across the way a rather interesting view, I’m sure.
I made a mental inventory of my furson. Nothing broken, nothing bleeding, and somewhat surprisingly no sore spots or bruises, as far as I could tell.
My companion was sleeping peacefully, and as much as I could see, she seemed to be quite all right. In fact, I decided it was possibly not in my best interest at the moment to take such an inventory of her features, as it was beginning to have effects on me that, while they were perfectly natural, were also quite disturbing.
Think, damnit, think! Where the hell was I last night? I didn’t have a hangover or a headache, though I did feel somewhat tired. It couldn’t have been alcohol that made me forgetful. And Miss Moorefield’s breath had no trace of alcohol, either. In fact, she smelled…well, I had to break THAT investigation off as well, as the natural effects were starting to happen, again.
The whole situation held the promise of extreme awkwardness, unless I could find where Miss Moorefield’s clothes were. I’m sure those indefinite New Havenites would have taken pictures through their window, but I had to hold out hope that few in the Islands would pay much attention to them. I doubt even photos would have much effect unless…
I frantically tried to remember anything I had been told about the Moorefield family. I know Her Grace had mentioned something, at some point. It was with a sinking feeling of impending terror that I remembered that Miss Moorefield’s family was the family that controlled the Standard of Rhode Island oil company. This implied that they were both well off, and blessed with significant means of inflicting things upon my furson that would be most unpleasant.
That promised to be even worse than the Althing or…Yahweh save me, Charles Foster Crane. I cringed. That’s where the photos would be ending up, to be sure. Crane was ever one to find a good excuse to have someone just in their fur on the front page, and a large-scale picture of stuffy Dr. James Meffit, MD, FRCSC, MC snuggled up next to an alluring young femme of his own species would be too delicious to resist.
And then, of course, there was the young lady in question herself. I mean, my first meeting with her had involved a medical examination as to whether she had lost her virginity to that indefinite Josslyn Hay, Earl of Errol. Well, in point of fact, she had not, though I suspected that was a decidedly moot point. I had not the slightest idea how she was going to react to the situation at paw, especially since, as was obvious, I still had both my paws on her rump, and there was little I could do about the natural reaction caused by the sight of her fur and how she smelled. And how the room smelled. Even with the window wide open, it seemed pretty evident what had happened.
A bit of movement caught my eye, and I snapped out of my reverie and found myself looking straight into a pair of rather startling blue eyes only a few inches from my own. Words failed me. They didn’t fail her.
I was the recipient of a warm and slow kiss, which at least answered one question. Thank heavens for that. When it finally broke off, I tried to find words.
“Errr, ah. G’morning, Miss…no, wait…g’morning, Athena.”
One eyebrow was raised in amusement. “You sound different when you’re not in your uniform.” There was a soft giggle, as she realized just how far out of my uniform I was. Quite true, of course. I could hear that my native accent, which normally doesn’t come out unless I’m agitated or very distracted, was front and center.
I also realized that I was holding her rump rather firmly, and let go. A pair of paws reached down, and put them back, followed by a little wiggle. She then rested her head against my chest.
“It’s all right, then, eh?”
“Mrrrrrph. Sun feels nice.” It must. The sunlight was streaming in through the window, and it did compliment her champagne-coloured fur quite nicely. I moved my paws, but mostly to stroke the back of her neck, which caused her to wriggle a bit more.
The room was quiet, except for the ticking of the mantel clock, which read about quarter after nine. Good heavens, the time! Well, there was nothing to be done about that.
“D’ye want me to call for breakfast, Athena?”
Athena raised herself, propping herself up with her paws on my chest. “Mmm. Yes. I’m very hungry. Please.”
I was about to try to figure out how to get out of bed, find something to put on, and ring for breakfast, when the bedroom door opened, and my housefur, P’ina, walked in as if nothing at all was unusual.
Athena gave a shrill squeal, and grabbed the only thing that was on the bed, a pillow, and covered herself with it. P’ina, completely poker-faced, balanced a breakfast tray with two large bowls of berries and a pitcher of cream, reached under the bed, and found one of the silk sheets, which he handed to Athena. Athena quickly took it, composed herself under the sheet, and then let P’ina put the tray on her lap.
I decided it was best to have a rather important conversation with P’ina, so I hopped off the bed and confronted him.
“(Sun-greeting deferential, creature with stripes and smell outlander.)”
“For pity’s sake, P’ina, don’t inflict Spontoonie on me this morning, I have enough troubles as it is.”
P’ina raised an eyebrow, and then nodded. Most of the Spontoonies can speak English (or Euro, as they say) perfectly well, they just choose to take the mickey and speak their own lingo. It usually works.
“Yes, sir. Good morning, sir.”
“P’ina, I want you to listen very carefully. Where are my clothes from last night?”
There was dead silence in the room, broken only by a spoon against china as Athena was having her breakfast. P’ina reached into his pocket, and pulled out one of my white ties from my evening dress.
“I am not in the mood for jokes, P’ina.”
“But it is not a joke, sir. This is what is left of your clothes.”
“Where the devil are the rest of them, eh?”
P’ina coughed, and looked at Athena behind me. He then shrugged. “Beyond repair, sir.”
“The young lady, sir, has manicured claws.”
“What has that got to do with…oh.”
P’ina reached into his jacket again, and pulled out something that was once a pair of silk Sulka boxer shorts. They weren’t, anymore.
“P’ina, please tell me that…”
“The young lady’s clothes, sir?”
I steeled myself for the inevitable. “Yes. Do I want to know what condition they are in?”
“They’re not in any condition, sir.”
“Oh, my life!”
“Your claws are…”
“Never mind my damned claws! D’ye mean to say that Miss Moorefield has nothing to wear?”
P’ina looked beyond me as Athena was continuing to have breakfast, evidently quite happily, given the tempo of spoon on china.
“No, sir. Not a thing. Should I call Nurse?”
I dispensed what I hoped was a withering glare. “You know perfectly well that Nurse is a sugar glider, and her uniform couldn’t possibly fit Miss Moorefield and…wipe that smirk from your face, P’ina.”
P’ina face quickly changed back to a poker face, from the sly look of amusement that had crossed it. Nurse was by no means of the same build as Athena, not that I had any chance to make comparisons.
“Now, listen very carefully. I want you to go as discreetly as possible to Miss Moorefield’s hotel…”
“Her luggage is downstairs, sir.”
“What, all of it?!”
P’ina raised an eyebrow. “I’m hardly in a position to choose her clothes for her, sir.”
Any thoughts of discretion went right out the (wide open) window, as I imagined what that kind of an operation entailed.
“I also paid her bills, sir.”
I was about to barrack P’ina for that, when I realized that is, in all likelihood, what I would have asked him to do, anyway. However, I’m virtually certain he did it not in a manner that would have kept things quiet, and the odds favoured the fact that he likely settled up with one of his numerous relatives.
“Shall I bring her things up, sir?”
I pinched my brow and sighed. “Draw a bath for Miss Moorefield, and make sure that she has fur shampoo and soap.”
“I stopped by the arcade at Shepherd’s, sir, and bought some.”
Worse and worse. I complimented P’ina on his initative. Through gritted teeth.
“Sir? Sergeant Brush from the Detective Bureau telephone about ten minutes ago, and said he wanted to have an interview with you at your earliest convenience. He said he was coming here, to the house.”
No end to it. “Very well, P’ina. When he comes, put him in the drawing room and offer him some coffee.”
“Yes, sir.” P’ina went to collect the tray from Athena, who had eaten both bowls of berries and cream. “Would you like me to bring you a robe, sir?”
I looked down to discover that I had conducted the entire interview in only my fur, and in front of the window, yet.
P’ina took my motion of putting my paws to my head as a “yes,” and withdrew with the tray.
As the door closed, Athena padded up to me, quite refreshed.
“Something the matter…James?”
“Eh?” I looked up, and there were the eyes, again. This time, they looked thoughtful, and a little concerned.
“No, no, Athena. It’s just that…well, you know, standing around in the fur like this isn’t what I do, normally.”
There was a gentle smirk. “Well, you can be sure I would never get away with this at home.”
The stab of terror this induced was overwhelmed by the disheartening sight, over Athena’s shoulder, of the second floor of the New Haven Embassy. There were a few furs gathered at a window, and judging from the way that they had their arms folded across their chest, I’m sure they were not happy with a display of the Bourgeois At Home.
Athena, puzzled by the look on my face, turned around. When she turned back, there was a sneer on her face.
“Do you care what they think?”
I thought about it. “Actually, I really only care what you think, Athena.”
A smile slowly unfolded, revealing a mouth full of teeth slightly stained with berries.
“You know what I think, James?”
“What do you think, Athena?”
“That I love you, and the hell with them.”
I was about to say something in kind, when Athena began to give a practical demonstration of her feelings, having first shifted me slightly so that I was directly in front of the window. Things went hazy right after that.
P’ina had had the wit to leave my bathrobe outside of the room, and I could hear him running the bath for Athena. I washed my face and brushed my hair, making myself look as presentable as possible under the circumstances, and went down to the drawing room.
Sergeant Brush was sipping at a coffee cup, and examining a sofa with some interest. I padded over to see what had caught his eye, and cringed when I saw that it was a small smear of blood on one of the cushions. I also noticed that P’ina had, probably deliberately, left a bit of Athena’s clothes and my mangled clothes near a potted plant not too far away.
“Good morning, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Brush straightened up, and grinned from ear to ear. There was little point in telling him to wipe the smile from his face, as he didn’t work for me.
“What brings you here this morning, eh?”
I was treated to a crafty look over the top of the cup. “Well, see, it’s like dis: got a number of complaints last night about youse.”
“Errr…what kind of complaints, then?”
“Aw, it ain’t much, don’tcha worry none. Mostly noise complaints, see?”
“Yup. Lessee…” Sergeant Brush got out his notebook and flipped open a page. “Constable on duty, walkin’ his beat, heard noises from th’ house ‘round about 10.22 last night. Came up to th’ porch, listened a bit, took some notes as what wuz bein’ said, an’ phoned in t’HQ, askin’ fer instructions.”
“Wait a minute…notes? On the conversation? He can’t do that!”
“When ya can hear it in th’ street, sure can.”
“Errrr…what was being said?”
Rather than say it, Sergeant Brush showed me the page in his notebook. The dialogue, such as it was, was rather sparse and monosyllabic.
He took back the notebook, and flipped a page. “Anyhoo, HQ told ‘im to leave things be, fer the moment. Lessee…we got another complaint at 11.34, then the New Haven Embassy calls in a visual and noise complaint at 0.06 an’ again at 0.52…”
“Visual-like. An’ noise. They wuz specific on that. Didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout dialogue, though.”
“Imagine my relief.”
“An’ we got calls again at…lessee…2.23, 3.40, an’ 4.39.”
“But...but why didn’t you…?”
“Eh, we told folks we’d talk t’youse this mornin’. Well, not everyfur. Told dem bums at th’ Embassy t’draw dere damn blinds, already, or I’d run ‘em in fer bein’ Peepin’ Toms.”
My paws went to my head, again. I counted up the number of complaints, and the various intervals, and began to calculate certain odds, in light of the fact that was a certainty that I was not using any prophylactics.
Sergeant Brush eyed the bloodstain on the sofa with interest.
“Sergeant, as God is my witness, I…”
“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout dat. I heard youse on the 0.06 call.”
“Hey, it ain’t nothin’ I ain’t heard nowhere ‘fore. I mean, ya grow up in longhouses like I done, an’…”
“You heard her?”
“No, I heard both of youse.”
“Gotta tell ya, ain’t no prosecutor gonna find lack a’ consent. From either of youse.”
I sank down into a chair (NOT the sofa) and put my head in my paws, yet again.
“My cousin tells me ya had th’ lady over fer dinner, last night.”
A small light, dawned. “Why, yes, that’s right. Dinner at 10, a rather late one, after a show at the Casino.”
The detective consulted his notebook. “Kinda short dinner, ain’t it? I mean, dinner at 10, first complaint at 10.22…”
I saw his point, and rang for P’ina. When he arrived, I put the question to him.
“P’ina, what happened at dinner, last night?”
“Well, sir. You and the young lady sat down to dinner at precisely ten, and I served the appetizer.”
“The shellfish, sir.”
“Oh! That’s right. The special ones I had Cook get. Now I remember.”
“Special ones?” Sergeant Brush perked his ears.
“Yes. Yesterday morning, I told Cook I wanted a special dinner for myself and Miss Moorefield, and she was to spare no expense in getting the best at the market. We had quite a discussion on it. I asked her about oysters, and what the most expensive ones were.”
Sergeant Brush shot a glance at P’ina, who remained poker faced. “Didja find out what she got?”
“Some type that’s hard to come by, it’s only occasionally in the market. Quite large oysters. Mimi something or other, I think. 5 shillings apiece, would you believe! But they were quite delicious. Very interesting flavour…”
Sergeant Brush shot another, wilder glance at P’ina. “Waitaminnit. Were dese t’ings called ma’muul?”
“Ah, yes, that’s the name, yes. Ma’muul.”
The detective’s jaw hung open. “Lissen, how many dese t’ings you eat?”
“Eh? Err…” I looked to P’ina.
“Dr. Meffit and Miss Moorefield had eight.” P’ina began to smile.
Sergeant Brush looked flabbergasted. “EIGHT?!”
“Look here, Sergeant, is there something I should know about these…err, ma’muul?”
There was a lot of finger pointing by Sergeant Brush at P’ina, who merely shrugged his shoulders.
“It is like this, sir. Ma’muul grow rather large, because they’re found near volcanic vents. It’s rather difficult to get at them, but the size and flavour of what is brought up usually makes the effort worthwhile. It’s the lore on these Islands that the ma’muul are rich in things good for health.”
Sergeant Brush growled. “Ain’tcha gonna say what type o’health?”
P’ina shrugged. “Usually, a wedding couple, just before they go to bed for the first time as mates, share a ma’muul between them. Some other furs, if they have problems in their marital duties, are given a ma’muul to eat by a Wise One.”
I looked startled. “Wait, wait, wait. You say one?”
“But hang it all, I had eight! And so did Miss Moorefield!”
“That’s correct, sir.”
I resolved to have a word with the Minister of Health about banning the sale of the damn things without a warning label, and then withdrew my resolution. What the hell could I put on the label?
Between the noise complaints, P’ina’s retrieval of Miss Moorefield’s luggage, and the ma’muul, keeping things quiet didn’t look promising. Sergeant Brush read my mind.
“Telephone, telegraph, tell yer neighbour.”
The detective shut his book with a snap. “Well, lookit: dere ain’t gonna be no charges, just a warnin’. Lay offen dem ma’muul, see?”
I promised Sergeant Brush in no uncertain terms that I didn’t want to see a ma’muul, let alone eat one, for the rest of my natural life.
The telephone rang, and it developed it was for Sergeant Brush, who picked it up, and alternated between listening and looking at me with amazement.
He seemed, after he hung up, on the brink of words, and then waved his paw.
“Y’know? Th’ hell wit’ it. Iffen I knew what pissed off dem New Haven bums, hell, I’d talk t’ Kiki about it, know what I means?”
At the door, he paused. “An’ lemme tell ya, any femmefur who feels dat way about youse, Doc…well, you ain’t gonna find anudder like dat, hanh?”
I pondered that for a few minutes, and walked upstairs.
Athena had taken advantage of the long interval of the conversation I had had with Sergeant Brush, along with my pondering, to have what I imagine was a leisurely bath and brush up. I walked into my bedroom to discover her brushing her tailfur, dressed in little more than her stockings. (In front of the window, too: no doubt a further provocation to the New Havenites.)
She heard me come in, and smiled. The temperature in the room seemed to spike, and I gathered my bath things and made a hasty departure to the bathroom, trailed by the sound of soft giggling.
I had a good, long shower.
A long, COLD shower.
Thus cooled down in body and spirit, I was able to dress myself with some semblance of order, conducive to thinking. There was a particular item I attempted to recall where I had secured it, and after some thought, I remembered where it was. It had been preserved, to be sure, but it was not something I dwelled on.
Athena was downstairs in my office, waiting for me. She was taking a closer look at the shadow-box above the mantel, where my full-size medals from the War were. Seeing me come in, she pointed at them and smiled.
“Daddy keeps his medals like that, too. He was at Belleau Wood.”
Oh, dear. Tell it to the Marines, indeed. At least I had some element of my character that he could respect, then.
“Athena, we need to talk.”
A flicker of worry crossed over her eyes. I avoided them, and instead looked at her dress, which was a very flattering ivory-cream colour. Athena composed herself quietly on the chair opposite my desk.
“Err, ahum. You know, Athena, I really hadn’t planned on last night, you know. Things…ah…happened rather suddenly.”
Athena tilted her head, and listened. I had to swallow, and put my paws behind my back, so she couldn’t see them shaking.
“I mean to say, I don’t regret what happened last night, not in that sense. I just didn’t think it would happen.”
Athena smiled. “You mean those oysters weren’t planned?”
I winced. Damn Cook, and damn P’ina, anyway. “I’ve been here in the Islands a long time, but no, I’ve never encountered the ma’muul before. I mean, I’ve never…” The temperature in the room began to spike again, and Athena’s look of curiousity at me certainly didn’t lower it.
I swallowed, and tried again. “I don’t, you know, normally behave like that.”
Athena nodded. “Yes. That’s what Her Grace told me.”
“Ah, I…wait, what?”
“Mmm-hmmm. I asked Katie about you.”
I was flabbergasted, in a way. I didn’t realize, of course, that Athena might have had the opportunity to ask about my character before, well, last night. Or, for that matter, that she was on such familiar terms with the Duchess of Strathdern.
“Oh? Err. Um. What did she…ah?”
Athena raised one eyebrow and smiled, inscrutably. “Well, she said you were a very brave fur, that you were good under pressure, you had a lot of integrity,” here, she giggled, “and that you had a nice ass.”
The room reached sauna levels as I tried to figure out how the y…how the devil Her Grace Katie had enough knowledge to make that judgement.
“She told me she peeked at you in Abyssinia, when you were taking bucket showers. She said it was only fair, after you saw her bare-breasted like that…”
I swallowed, before I could burst out heatedly and shout that that was professional business, not personal, for treating a wound. I managed to keep something of my composure. I’m not certain whether I was more shocked that a high-ranking peeress of Scotland had been contemplating my rear end, or that Athena would cheerfully relay this knowledge to me. It probably took at least a minute before I could regain my equilibrium after that budget of news.
“She’s right. You do.”
“Errr. Ahum. Ah. Uh. Ah. Yes. I mean no. I mean, ah. Well, I. Where was I?”
Looking into Athena’s eyes helped more than I would have imagined.
“Oh, right. Now I remember. Athena…dear…what I did to you last night…”
She corrected me with a another giggle (which were intoxicating). “What you did FOR me last night.”
I corrected her back. “What I did to you last night…look, I can’t let that simply stand. It feels very wrong. I have to do something about it.”
Athena’s smile faded, and she looked very confused. Poor choice of words, perhaps, on my part.
I breathed in deeply a few times. That helped less than I would have imagined.
“Athena, we have to visit a few places today to set things right.”
She blinked, and her confusion deepened.
“Ah, I mean, we have to visit…well, a jeweler’s, then the Registry Office, and I’m going to have to have a word with Rabbi Steinmink…”
The words sunk in, for both of us. I never, never thought I would hear myself utter them. The clock chimed quarter-past ten while Athena thought.
“One night and one morning, and you’re thinking that?” She looked at me straight in the eyes when she said that.
The mesmerizing eyes. It was some effort to focus on the matter at paw.
“You put quite a value on yourself.” The eyes narrowed a bit.
“Athena, you’re very fortunate, in that you have the blessings of youth and beauty. I’m no longer young, and as for my…”
“Hmmmmmmmmm.” The eyes relaxed a bit, and Athena looked me over leisurely, not going beyond an amused dissent.
“Errr…ahh. Look, Athena, dear. You must understand me. I have very good reasons for wanting to do this. I mean, even beyond the obvious ones.” There were some very obvious ones, indeed. I had changed my mind about the sensation I felt when I woke up this morning.
Athena, for her part, raised a questioning eyebrow.
I took off my pince-nez and rubbed my eyes. There were a number of things from 1917 that were coming to my mind, things that I’d shoved into the background, hard, to stay there. It was a struggle to keep it that way, aided by clenching my paws until the knuckles turned white.
“I’ll tell you the full story, of course, when the time is right. The summary of it is that all my expectations and plans came crashing down, my world got turned on its head, because of the War. I’m not the only fur, of course, who had that happen, but that’s not much comfort…”
I looked out the window at the garden. My paws were aching from where I was clenching them.
I waved one throbbing paw about. “What you see around you, here, is a badge of success, I suppose. But this whole place is empty. Sitting in a formal dining room set for one…well, it can warp a mind if you let it, and I’ve been worried about what was going to happen to me in the coming years.”
The room was silent again, as I had to muster up enough courage to turn and look at her.
“Athena, you’re probably the last and best chance I’ll ever have to know love. Not just the physical kind…any damned fool can fill that appetite in any way he or she feels. I’m talking about the kind of feeling from…well, NOT dining alone. Not walking alone. Not sitting by yourself, staring at a fireplace. At not being alone at 3 a.m.”
That last point, allow me to assure you, is by far the worst.
“You’re right, Athena. This is sudden, and very fast. But I have a feeling in my guts that this IS the right thing to do with you, for both our sakes.”
I was able, for once, to look her in the eyes and hold her gaze.
“Will you come with me, Athena?”
The romance writers are, amazingly, right. The trope about eyes meeting, and truth dawning…it does happen, after all.
I realized that this was, in fact, “it.”
So, apparently, did she. Athena thought for a long moment, swishing her tailtip. She then stood up.
She walked over, and put her paw in mine, squeezed it, and then gently tugged it.
“Let’s go, James. Together.”
It was nearly a full minute before the full import sunk in. When it did, the best I could do was squeeze her paw back, and then link arms with her.
P’ina held the front door open for us, bowing slightly. I turned to him.
“P’ina, will you call the agency, and have them send over a lady’s maid? She should come this evening, after dinner.”
“And call my locum tenes, and have him pick up my appointments. I will be busy all day today, on a personal matter.”
P’ina looked, for an instant, very crafty. “Yes, sir.”
Athena and I walked, arm in arm, down the street. As it was mid-morning, there was comparatively little traffic on Meeting Island. Only the occasional vendor. To a fur, they did a double-take when they saw us coming down the street.
“She was right, you know.”
“Eh? Who was?”
“Her Grace. She said if things happened…well, sort of like they did, that you’d behave like you’re doing now.”
“Well, it’s true. You’re not like Josslyn Hay.”
“Great Scott, I hope not! You mark my words, he’ll die at the paws of some fur he cuckolded, just you watch. Horrible man, horrible.”
Athena squeezed my arm, and slowed our walk slightly.
Nearly all of the fancy jewelers in the Spontoons are on Casino Island; naturally, since that’s where the money is, and the Spontoonies generally don’t bother with things like that. (Which isn’t to say that they’re not interested in gold, of course.) Meeting Island has one small shop that caters to the pawful of Euros on the island, as well as the governmental types. Nicer, in a way, since the shop is quieter. And, more to the point, we would probably not be interrupted.
The small tabby behind the counter beamed as he buzzed the two of us in. He motioned us to a pair of comfortable chairs.
“You’d like to see something in an engagement ring, and matching wedding rings, then?”
Athena beamed, and nodded. I was dumbstruck, and puzzled.
A rather tasteful emerald-and-diamond ring, a bit of estate jewelry I think, was chosen by Athena. It was a rather good stroke of luck that it fit her paw nicely. It also set off her fur and her eyes very nicely, and I told her so. A statement that was received very warmly. The wedding rings themselves were straightforward gold circles, and only required measuring.
I had the rings put in a small box. Athena would wear the other ring, naturally. I had a quiet conversation with the owner about arranging for the payment. And a few other things.
“How the devil did you…?”
“Oh, come now, Doctor. The way you and the young lady were walking down the street? Very obvious, indeed. Very.”
There was something behind the look that he was giving me, but as I’m not Kara Karoksdottir, I couldn’t really cross-examine him on the statement, and I left it at that. The owner bowed us both out, congratulating us.
The next stop was the Ministry of Health, an office that I knew very well, perhaps all too well. And they knew ME there very well, perhaps all too well. This was going to prove interesting.
I knew I was for it when the clerk at the Licence Office elbowed his colleague. Blast him, he didn’t even try to hide it.
“Hiya, Sawbones!” I HATE it when they call me that, and they bloody well know it. “Gonna make it legal, hanh?”
“Athena, my dear?”
“Would you step outside for a few minutes?”
She looked at the way I was glaring at the clerks, and remembered that she needed her passport, and would get a ricksha driver to take her back to the house. Once she was safely out of the way, the fireworks started.
“What the bloody hell do you mean by…?”
The ferret sneered gleefully. “Are you kiddin’? The way you two furs were goin’ at it last night? And this mornin’? Doesn’t surprise me none. Hell, put me in the same room with her, and I’d…”
“I don’t give a tupenny damn about your sick fantasies. Give me the damn form.”
His colleague, a smallish roe deer, sniggered. “The form for shotgun weddings?”
“Knock it off, and hand over the marriage licence form. NOW.”
Both of them raised their paws in mock horror, and went “oooooooooooh.” The form was duly handed over, and I went over to a table to fill it out.
It was then that I discovered that one of the attachments to the form required a certification from a physician that the furs to be wed were in good health. Oh, oh.
“May I have the attachment…?”
The ferret wiggled his eyebrows. “You gonna give the certification?”
“I am, in case you haven’t forgotten, the Chief Medical Officer for…”
The cervine slapped his forehead. “Shucks. You know, that completely slipped my mind. Did you know ol’ Jimmy here was a doc?”
“Heeeey, I did. Sure I did. Ol’ Doc here’s an expert on comparative anatomy, knowwhatImean?”
“You think he can fill out the form? I mean, he’s a big-shot doctor and all.”
“Oh, sure. Hey, I mean, he knows how healthy he is and his dame.”
“I’m WARNING you…”
“Heck, we ALL know how healthy both of ‘em are. I mean, half-a-dozen times in just a few hours? Doc here would have to have a heart like a racehorse to do that.”
“That ain’t the only part, eh?”
At this point, I took one step back, pointed my muzzle at the ceiling, and began a thunderous oration about what I thought about the Office of Licences in particular, and the Ministry of Health in general. The subject then moved on to the fact that both of these geniuses were due for their annual physical, if I wasn’t mistaken, in a few months, and that if they didn’t shut up, give me my forms, stamp them, sign them, and do their other bureaucratic things, I would make each and every element of their physical as prolonged, embarrassing and messy as I could possibly make it while staying within the boundaries of the Hippocratic Oath, and if they thought my threats were odious, I had some natural means to emphasize my displeasure. The last five minutes of this, I had turned my muzzle from the ceiling and had gotten within a few inches of their muzzles. It was something I had seen our regimental sergeant-major do, and I took note of the technique at the time.
A fair-sized crowd had gathered in the hallway. I turned, glared at them, and stamped my feet meaningfully. You never saw a group vanish so quickly in your life. The only fur left was the Minister himself, a rather smooth twit I’ve never liked a great deal.
“Doctor! What an unexpected pleasure!”
“Having a difficulty with the form?”
I made it clear to him, in a few crisp phrases, what I thought of the way his employees were handling the application process. Neither the roe deer nor the ferret looked overly concerned about it; they would probably get no more than a finger wagging and a wink from this lot.
“Now, boys. Doctor Meffit here is in a great hurry…aren’t you, Doctor? It’s not right to keep him or his LOVELY lady waiting. They have other things to attend to, hmmmmmmm? Here, Doctor, I’ll countersign the health certificate, so furs will know it’s on the level. We’re here to serve the public, aren’t we boys?”
I gave him a rather frosty set of thanks. Athena came back with her passport, and we signed the papers. The fee was passed over, and James Meffit and Athena Moorefield were the proud possessors of a document that indicated they could lawfully wed anywhere in the Spontoon Independencies.
On our way out the door, the two clerks waved sarcastically.
“I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you.”
“So’ll everybody on the Island!”
I slammed the door shut on their laughter, and for good measure, kicked a cuspidor, sending it sailing across the lobby.
I took my pocket-watch out to settle my nerves, and found from the grumbling of my stomach that it was well within lunch time. I could take Athena over to L’Etoile d’Argent, but I was in no mood to cross swords with the maitre d’hotel over there, not that he would have any understanding of the situation.
No, the closest place to get a decent meal was Luchow’s, a few blocks away. Athena and I walked over.
Mercifully, one of the first furs I saw when we walked in was Inspector Stagg. He struggled a bit to his hooves, using his cane, and politely invited us to join him. (He was at his usual table, which was informally reserved for him by the management, on whom he was on intimate terms. So to speak.)
“Good morning, Doctor. Good morning, Miss Moorefield. Congratulations to you both.”
I sighed. “And you know this because…?”
“Miss Moorefield is wearing a very tasteful engagement ring. Did she select it herself?”
Athena looked very pleased. Which wasn’t anything approaching her reaction when she saw a party emerge from the back, probably from the private room. Her Grace the Duchess of Strathdern and a host of her colleagues and employees came out. Athena bounded up, squealed, and in a joyful babble, relayed the news to all and sundry.
Her Grace’s reaction was a mixture of deep pleasure, and some amusement. The other furs contented themselves with a loud cheer, and paws were extended in my direction. I recognized Raibassu, of course, since I had delivered his cub a few years before. I was mildly surprised to see Charles Foster Crane in the group, and even more surprised to see his native mistress with him. He didn’t appear with her in public all that often. A gentlefur introduced himself as Zeke Bronsteil, and whispered his congratulations in Yiddish. Which indicated that I would have a slightly easier time in collecting a minyan than I thought I would have.
Her Grace eventually disengaged herself from my fiancée, and extended her congratulations in her typical fashion.
“What took you two so long?” Given that this was accompanied by a warm hug and a kiss, it was thankfully obvious that she meant it in the right spirit.
“Did you plan this whole thing, Your Grace?”
An arched eyebrow, and a look of spurious, poker-faced innocence. “Really, Doctor. I did no such thing. This happened quite naturally, didn’t it, Athena?”
Athena turned from the group to whom she was showing her ring, and grinned gleefully.
Miss Baumgartner, in her biergarten uniform (which I know the Inspector likes), joined the crowd at this point, hugged Athena, and then turned to me with a grin from ear to ear. She was stopped by the Inspector, who raised a gently warning finger.
“Rosie. Behave yourself.”
“Franneleh, what makes you think I’m going to have fun here?” Miss Baumgartner was making no effort to hide her glee at the turn of events.
“Long experience with boisterous high-spirits on your part, as well as the knowledge that any wedding, let alone a wedding in Temple, is your equivalent of the World Series or the FA Cup Final.”
A grin showing a full set of pearly feline teeth. “Ain’t it the truth! And with a couple like this…?” Another cheer from the crowd, indicating their support for Rosie’s statement.
The Inspector coughed quietly. “Rosie, there are a few things I’m sure the Doctor needs help in arranging…”
A cheetah nose wrinkled. “Ewwww. Boy talk. No gurlz allowed.” A chorus of mock boos from the femmefurs. Athena was led off by Rosie on the one paw, and Her Grace on the other paw, tailed by the femme furs. Mr. Bronsteil and Mr. Crane slipped into the Inspector’s booth to join us. I eyed Crane warily.
He raised a wing in self-defence. “A straightforward wedding announcement, is all. I’ll even let you look at a proof.”
“Come now, Doctor. Remember what I said some time ago? That there were femmes on these Islands who thought highly of you? Including L’yra?”
“She convinced you to downplay this?”
“Well…” He looked around a bit, and dropped his voice. “To tell the blunt truth, she said she’d pull my tailfeathers out by the bundle if I embarrassed your fiancée, Doctor. I find it advisable not to cross L’yra. I have suspicions she’s in Her Grace’s network of friends.”
Somehow, I was not surprised. Her Grace seemed to know everyone.
“Besides, what’s the fun of owning a newspaper if you can’t have double standards, hmmm?”
Mr. Bronsteil extended a paw cheerfully. “I’ve been in your situation, Doctor, where things happened suddenly. Don’t worry about it. You won’t regret it. I sure haven’t, and neither has Maggie. You’ll do just fine.” He tapped the side of his nose significantly, and smiled.
The Inspector extended his own paw. “Indeed, the gentlefur is right. These things do happen suddenly, and often for the better. I certainly think so.”
He did have reason to say that, as I knew. And, for that matter, as most of the Islands knew.
I looked at the menu. “At least there aren’t any oysters for the day’s specials.”
Bronsteil looked thoughtful. “Treyf.”
“Well, they’re off my diet, thank you very much. Inspector, have you ever heard of ma’muul?”
“Rosie raised the issue, once, half in jest. Luckily, deer don’t eat oysters, so she didn’t press the matter.”
Crane, to jolly me along, told a story about a junior Althing minister who had had a ma’muul slipped into his seafood stew by his long-suffering mate, only to be called to an emergency meeting in his office, which ended up in an unexpected fashion, especially when the mate came by to check on him.
Rabbi Steinmink, summoned by some mysterious means, quietly slipped into the restaurant, and discreetly took a table near us with Raibassu and another fur from Katie’s party, one that I took to be a journalist or a public-relations fur.
“I suppose, Rebbe, you know what’s going on?”
Doctor Steinmink smiled quietly. “My mate and I both congratulate you, Doctor. Well-deserved, and long overdue. Although…rather rapid, yes?” I gave him a sanguine look, to which he smiled faintly, and continued. “Well, be that as it may, we have Miss Baumgartner, and Mr. Bronsteil and his mate here. Mrs. Steinmink found, in her usual mysterious way, that there is a fishing boat from New Zion docked today, so we have enough for a minyan.”
“Ah!” This actually was a bit of luck. I was wondering if we could do that.
“Mrs. Steinmink has been spending the morning getting Temple up to her standards.”
“The operating theatre at Island Hospital should be so clean.”
“I’ll tell her that, it will please her. Full house, do you think?”
There followed a discussion of the invitees. Apparently, a similar discussion was going on in the back room, and a list was produced. A number of furs from Her Grace’s party were on the list: Keith Lawton (the PR fur), the Bronsteils, Raibassu and his mate, and so forth. I noticed that somefur, probably Athena, had penned in the name of the local representative for Standard of Rhode Island, presumably a stand-in for the family. I sent back a list of my own, including P’ina, my nurse, a few furs from the Rain Island base and from Island Hospital, the Inspector (and Miss Baumgartner, of course), Sergeant Brush and his mate, Father Merino, Chief and Mrs. Sapper, Crane and his ladyfur. Inspector Stagg coughed quietly, and suggested a name from the Althing that wouldn’t raise my blood pressure, and it was duly added to the list. It came back approved.
Lunch was a rather leisurely affair, and I noticed that somehow, mysteriously, a bill never appeared. The laughter from the back room indicated a good time was had by all.
It seemed only fair to give Athena’s family at least a modicum of advance warning. On the one paw, the local representative of Standard of Rhode Island, when bearded in his lair on Eastern Island, was given his invitation orally, in furson. He looked deeply surprised, and not a little worried; I suppose he was wondering what they would say in the home office in Providence when the news hit. Manners prevailed, and he indicated that he would indeed attend. We assumed he would be sending an urgent message home.
Both of us went to the Nimitz Union Telegraph office down the street from the SORI office. Athena took a pawful of blanks, and after one telegram of moderate length to her parents (urgent rate), began to send telegrams to, seemingly, every fur she knew.
I had only one telegram to send, which was also to Athena’s parents. This was a polite, respectful one, indicating that I was to marry Athena today, that I had every hope that I could meet family standards, and extending an invitation to visit the Spontoons. I also took care to sign the telegram “James Meffit, MD, FRCSC, MC, Chief Medical Officer and Medical Examiner, Spontoon Island Independencies.” Pompous, perhaps, but a number of furs would indicate that it was in character, and I had hopes that it might deflect confusion and rage at the other end, if they found out their newly minted son-in-law was at least a respectable (I hoped) government official.
The chief operator, an elderly goat, looked over the top of his bifocals at me, in a not unkindly way.
“Shall I tell Western Union to print out the telegrams on special paper? No additional charge, considering the bulk.”
I nodded, and the goat checked off a few boxes. And then gave a sidelong glance at Athena, who was swishing her tail happily as she filled out another telegram blank. He dropped his voice.
“Lucky fellow, landing a femme like that.”
Who was I to disagree?
A deliveryfur, chewing his Bubble Cud, popped his bubble and also gave a sidelong look at Athena, one that was rather more leisurely and involved a great deal of imagination. He wiggled his eyebrows at the goat, and was rewarded with a hoof applied to his trousers for his pains, and an order to attend to his bike.
There were a few hurried telephone calls as some other furs forgotten in the rush were invited, such as the Nerzmanns and one or two of the furs I knew from the Speed Week racing committee. It was assumed that some other non-invitees would sneak in, anyway, since things were a little slow after the end of the festivities.
Rodent Shalom, if you didn’t know where it was, would be hard to find. It is very unobtrusive and restrained on the outside. One would be forgiven if it was mistaken for a sedate gentlefurs’ club. Only a small stained-glass window set high above the street, with a discreet Magen David on it, gave an indication of what was inside.
Some of the guests were already inside, but others were standing in the little garden off to the side, enjoying a late afternoon breeze. Sergeant Brush was there with his mate, who was very visibly pregnant with another cub. She smiled, and bowed slightly when introduced to Athena. She also gave her a long, interested, searching look and turned to her mate. Pointing at my fiancée, she smiled and said something involved in Spontoonie. Athena, curious as ever, wanted to know what was said.
Sergeant Brush tugged slightly at his collar. “Well…it’s like dis, see? Kiki, she sez yer gonna be a good child-bearer, wit’…well, wit’ hips an’ a chest like dat.”
The inside of Athena’s ears turned bright red, and she giggled.
“Oh, yeah. An’ she sez congrats t’all t’ree of youse.”
Athena blinked. “Three? You mean…oh!” Light dawned as Kiki Brush rubbed her stomach and smiled.
“How does she know, Sergeant?”
“Eh, well. Y’know. Wise One blood an’ all. Kinna senses it, see?”
I thought about protesting, but on the other paw, I calculated the odds that Kiki was right, and they were, in all likelihood, decidedly in her favour.
Another Spontoonie voice, this one far older and scratchier, could then be heard. Sergeant Brush, looking a little frightened, did a fast fade behind the bulk of his spouse, while his mate merely looked respectful and nodded.
Athena and I turned around to see a pangolin, who was obviously a Wise One. Her scales were carefully coloured in an inscrutable pattern which was quite striking.
She reached into a small bag, and produced a shell. I could see that it was a rather large cowrie, of a deep rose colour. Turned one way, it could be viewed as rather suggestive. She handed it to Athena, and said something that, while scratchy, could be regarded as sing-song.
She turned to me, scowled, pointed at Athena, pointed at me, said something, and gave me an energetic swat on my nose, before turning and scuttling off.
Holding my throbbing nose, I turned to Sergeant Brush for illumination.
“She told yer femme that her longhouse wuz gonna be happy an’ full of lil’ ones, so long as she kept her heart innit. As fer youse, she said t’obey yer mate in bed or else…well…” Sergeant Brush was protecting himself in a manner that left little to the imagination. Kiki Brush was smiling broadly and nodding sagely.
With that blessing (?) in mind, we went inside.
Mrs. Bronsteil and Miss Baumgartner had claimed two of the very best seats, on the grounds that they were part of the minyan, though I suspect they really wanted the view. The other landsers, Mr. Bronsteil and the fisherfurs, took slightly more discreet places. The fisherfurs were dressed in their Shabbas best, which looked slightly awkward on their muscular, tanned frames.
The other furs sat themselves as they pleased. Well, most of them. Ambassador Brunswick came bustling in, looking very much put out that he was neither invited as a guest, nor asked to perform the ceremony. There was a somewhat hurried conference among the Ambassador, Inspector Stagg, Chief Sapper, Sergeant Brush, the Althing representative, and myself in the garden, since His Excellency had a rather penetrating voice.
The gist of his argument was that he was an expert in wedding ceremonies, and in light of the fact that the bride was a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth (the Althing representative coloured at this, and was ignored by Brunswick), he had a right, nay a duty, to perform the ceremony.
He was about to embark on a stem-winder when Sergeant Brush had the wit to take out his flask and open the top noisily. The Ambassador was suitably distracted, and after a long sampling of Sour Cocoanut Popskull, agreed to table the matter until later in the week, when he would pay a visit to the house and “hitch you young’uns up right.”
He returned the empty flask to Sergeant Brush, and greatly mollified and refreshed, waddled back into temple.
Crisis averted, the ceremony proceeded.
There isn’t much I can tell you about the actual proceedings. I was distracted.
Crane, newspaperfur that he was, took notes (suitably edited by his mistress for content and bias) and gave me some observations, later. He said that Miss Baumgartner was eyeing the chuppah rather wistfully, and glancing at Inspector Stagg every so often. The latter seemed lost in his own thoughts, as he tends to be on these occasions. The Bronsteils watched the ceremony with great enjoyment, holding paws, probably thinking of their own wedding. Her Grace the Duchess of Strathdern was smiling broadly, very pleased with herself. He wasn’t sure precisely why, and neither was I. Very deep mare, that one. My nurse cried, as did Mrs. Brunswick. The SORI representative kept a stern eye on the Ambassador himself, to make sure the latter behaved himself. Thanks to the soporific effects of the Sour Cocoanut Popskull, he did. The fisherfurs put their all into their ceremony; I suppose they don’t get many chances to participate in a wedding. They had fine, deep voices, which even I heard.
The Nerzmanns had, rather graciously, provided a delicious Rhine wine for the ceremonial toast between Athena and myself.
I broke the wine glass underneath my footpad with a mixture of relief, and of joy. It’s always been said that a fur is not complete without marriage, and I know see the point fully.
It had been a very long, very exhausting, and very exhilarating day, and both Athena and I were tired by the time we got home, undressed, and got into bed.
Or, at least, I thought we were.
A paw was placed on my chest, and a question was whispered into my ear: shall we leave the window open?
I looked over at the window, and then back at Athena. Who smiled.
I left the window open.
I was under orders to obey my mate, was I not?