She was affixing an earring when the door burst open and Miss Murth entered the room backward. “Sir, I protest, I do protest—Madame, I have protested—Sir, I insist!” He pushed her into a chair so hard that three top buttons of her respectable blouse popped and spun onto the floor. Several inches of Miss Murth’s private neck were exposed. She grabbed a pillow to conceal herself.
Poor little me, surrounded by the retinue I deserve, thought Glinda. She nodded at Cherrystone and waved to a tufted stool. He remained standing.
“I was told you were ready to see me,” said General Cherrystone.
“Well, I was almost ready to see you in the pergola, where thanks to the grapevines the light is less accusatory.” She finished putting on the second earring. “Still, we must move with the times. Miss Murth, if you have finished composing yourself? A little air, the window, such stifling… Excuse the atmosphere, sir. Ladies in their chambers and all that.”
“I was afraid I’d hear that you’d been spotted leaving through the servants’ entrance and taken into custody by my men. I wanted to spare you the indignity. I assumed that ninety minutes was enough for you to compose yourself, and I see I was right. You remain a captivating woman, Lady Glinda.”
“When I was the Throne Minister of Oz, that would have been a most impertinent remark. Still, I’m retired now, so thanks a lot. To what boysy sort of escapade do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
“Don’t play the naïf; it doesn’t suit you any longer. I’m here to requisition Mockbeggar Hall.”
“But of course you’ll do nothing of the sort. You have no grounds and I am certain you have no authority. You will stay for elevenses though? Do.”
“I’m sure you’re aware that your name has come up for questioning in the Emerald City. For your refusal to evacuate the premises. Some call it seditious.”
She studied him before he spoke. It had been some years since their paths had crossed, and she had once been his boss. Had she treated him well? But what did that matter? Here he was. With a good head of hair; she admired that in any man past fifty. Though the gloss in his locks was gone, and the color was of dirty coins. He’d shaved. A missed stand of stubble under one ear betrayed the grey. Shaved—for her? Should she feel flattered? Curious: his eyes were no more guarded than they’d once been. That was how he had gotten ahead, she thought—oh, mercy, a moment of clarity, how unusual and piercing, but concentrate, what was that thought again?—Cherrystone had always seemed … approachable. Sanguine. Ordinary, cheery. Those peppery, bitten smiles, the self-deprecation. The shrugs. A pose like any other. Beware, Galinda, she said to herself, not realizing she was addressing herself with her childhood name.
“Sedition?” she ventured. “Bizarre, but you’re joking.”
He spoke in even tones, as if briefing a dull-witted client. “Lady Glinda. Loyal Oz has mounted an invasion of Munchkinland. We are at war. Under the circumstances, the Emerald City magistrates have found your refusal to leave Mockbeggar Hall and Munchkinland all but treasonous. You hardly need me to explain; the Emperor’s counsel has sent you petitions by diplomatic pouch, to which you have refused to respond.”
“I’m not much for correspondence. I could never choose the right stationery, rainbows or butterflies.”
“You make it impossible for anyone to mount a case in your favor. Even your supporters in the EC are flummoxed at your obstinacy. What’s your rationale? Lord Chuffrey, rest his soul, was from the capital, while you originate in Gillikin Country. You can claim no family roots here. Ergo, your insistence at residing in a state with which we are at war is tantamount to a betrayal of Loyal Oz.”
“Is that what determines one as a traitor these days? One’s address?”
“It makes no difference now. It’s my sad duty to inform you that you are under arrest. Still”—the good guy at work, she saw it—“you’re free to make a statement on record, as we have a witness in your lady-in-waiting. What do you call yourself? A rebel? Or a loyalist?”
“I call myself well bred, which means not talking politics in society.”
He gave a half-nod, though she couldn’t guess if it was acknowledgment of protocol or proof that he considered her borderline berserk. Still, he continued in a dogged manner. “You understand the thinking of the EC magistrates. You must. Mockbeggar Hall is in Munchkinland. And you haven’t been seen in the city in five years. You haven’t hosted a soirée in your house in Mennipin Square in too many seasons to count.”
“When one has become famous, one finds it harder to go out to the shops without being pestered by well-wishers and rabble. And really: Where would I go? The Emerald City? Please. I couldn’t step foot outside the front door in Mennipin Square without people flocking to me. It’s tiresome to have to … beam so. My face hurts.”
He looked as if he thought her quite the incapable liar.
Doggedly she went on. “I prefer the quiet life now. I look after my garden… I train the climbing roses, deadhead the pansies.” This was sounding feeble. “I like to arrange flowers.”
Their eyes both drifted to a milk jug on the table between them where a fistful of listing tulips, papery and translucent with age, had dropped a few browned petals. Sad, really. Condemning. She tried again. “In truth, I’ve been composing my memoirs, and the country is conducive to reflection, don’t you see.”
“But why have you parked yourself in a country home abroad instead of in Loyal Oz, from where the Arduennas and the Uplands hail?”
“Darling Cherrystone. Lord Chuffrey’s family had this house long before Munchkinland seceded—what, is it thirty years ago by now? And when I became Throne Minister, and this place remained accessible via the east-leading branch of the Yellow Brick Road, why shouldn’t I repair here? I could get back and forth to the capital with ease and safety.”
“You could have relocated. There are other great houses within a few days’ ride of the Palace.”
“But this house. It’s the real thing. Pallantine Revival, don’t you know. Without any of those tacky so-called improvements affixed with sticky tape and safety pins … no, it’s simply the best of its kind. You must have noticed the twice-etched pillars inlaid with strabbous onyx on either side of the south porch? In ranks of three? Genuine Parrith’s, I tell you, verified by the Parrith Society. He didn’t work in onyx anywhere else, not even in the Emerald City.”
“In fidelity to the nation, a patriot would pick up and move house…” His tone was ominous, as if he had forgotten to notice the south porch. The oaf.
“This house doesn’t move. Most don’t. Or are you referring to Dorothy?” she said coldly. “She moved house rather capably, as we all remember. Mercy, could she move house.”
“Always clever. But, Lady Glinda, you align yourself with the wrong sort if you do not step in line.”
“I didn’t draw this line, or any others. And if by ‘the wrong sort’ you are referring to the departed Thropp sisters, Nessarose and Elphaba, well, that’s tired business. They’ve been dead and gone, what, fifteen, sixteen years now.”
“I have little time for this; I’ve heard what I need. You have not declared yourself unequivocally patriotic. That’s now a matter of public record. But I warn you, Lady Glinda. There are borders one should not cross.”
“If Elphaba observed any border, she’d go out of her way to trespass against it. Or are we talking, obliquely, about social class? Have a brandy, it’s nearly noonday. Miss Murth, are you composed enough to decant something for us?”
Cherrystone said, “I must decline. There is much to arrange. You have been served notice of detention at home. I am taking over Mockbeggar Hall as my headquarters.”
Glinda sat forward and gripped the arms of her chair, though her voice remained casual. “I would do the same were I you, I suppose. It isn’t often that a boy of your humble beginnings gets to lodge in a jewel box like this. Will you be a honey, though, and do mind your bloody boots when it comes to the sofas?”
shone like ice, of course.
“And where will you expect me to lodge?” she continued in a stiffer voice. “Do you intend to plunge me and my staff into some oubliette?”
“You may maintain your private apartments and you won’t be disturbed. I am afraid we shall have to dismiss your staff.”
She gave a laugh. “I don’t do without staff. Sir.” Her refusing to use his military title was intended as an insult, and she watched it land.
“A skeletal company then. Two, three.”
“A dozen. And the departing staff will need guarantee of safe passage through the armies that seem”—she indicated the window—“to be wreaking havoc in the hydrangeas.”
“Please submit a list of those who will remain so we can have them vetted.”
He crossed his long legs, as if making bivouac in some forest glade. The nerve.
“I mean now,” he added.
“Oh, my goodness, military life is so brusque. I had quite forgotten. Have you forgotten, Commander Cherrystone, that in my station—”
“General. General Cherrystone, not Commander.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon.” Could he tell she was having him on? “Nonetheless, though I wish I’d maintained a private army to turf you out, I shall do as you request in return for your promise not to molest those staff who must be made redundant. I shall require, let’s see. A chef, a sommelier, a butler. That’s three. An ostler and a driver. That’s five. And a lady-in-waiting as chaperone at home…” She gestured toward the woman nearby. “Not you, Miss Murth, you are too dour.”
Miss Murth wailed.
“Only kidding, Miss Murth! Though I turn serious if you shriek again.”
“That’s six,” said Cherrystone. “More than enough. Though in actual fact you won’t need an ostler or a driver.”
“Surely you don’t plan to confine me? To keep me from making my rounds among the poor of the parish?”
He snorted. “You’re doing charity?”
“Don’t sound so surprised. It’s bundles of fun.”
“When you wish to dispense largesse, you can rely on me to supply you a driver and a chaperone. We’ll subtract two from your list of six. No ostler, no driver. That leaves you four. That sounds quite enough.”
“Oh, and yes, I shall need a girl to help me bathe.”
“You’ve forgotten how to bathe?”
“The powders, dear Sir. The unguents. The gentle persuasion of peroxide. You need study me more closely, or do you think such beauty as I pretend to is wholly of the natural order?”
He colored slightly. She had him, and carried on. “Unless you want to dispatch a young foot soldier to do the work? In the interest of military economies? Very well, if I must. Provided I get to interview the nominees and make the choice myself. I pride myself on being able to tell a healthy—”
“Five retainers, then. Submit to me their names and their points of origin. You will not be allowed to maintain Munchkinlanders, I am afraid.”
“Well, we stand in agreement on that matter, for I always found oldstock Munchkins too petite to reach the sideboard. In any event one is wise to keep the sherry on an upper shelf, don’t you know.”
He ticked on the fingers of one hand. “A companion, a butler, a chef, a sommelier, a private maid. You may take the afternoon to write out their references. But we’ll drop the sommelier, I think. I know a bit about wine. I’ll take pleasure in making recommendations myself.”
“I don’t supply supporting documents, General Cherrystone. I am Lady Glinda.” She stood up so suddenly she felt light-headed. “Your horses are eating my roses. Miss Murth, would you see the General out?”
When he’d gone, she remained at the window. Restwater, the largest of Oz’s lakes, glowed keenly white in the high sun. A few storks waded in the rushes of the nearer cove. She could glimpse little sign of the fishing fleet out on the water. The fishermen had tucked their vessels up tightly somewhere, and were hoping to sit out the invasion without starving.
There was no safe place in Oz for Glinda. She knew this. The government administrators in the Emerald City—the Emperor’s men—were just waiting for her to emerge. She was too popular a figurehead to be allowed to swan about freely in the EC. Her longtime sponsorship of an institute of maunts latterly accused of printing seditious broadsides was enough reason to lock her away. Risky business, offering patronage. No, her bread was buttered good and hard on the wrong side. Better to tough it out here and manage her private obligations as best she might, for as long as she could.
By noontime the next day the soldiers’ horses had drunk the fountain dry. The forecourt of crushed lake abalone reeked with horse manure. “Do bring a message to the General,” said Glinda, “and inform him that there’s a whole lake forty feet beyond the lawns. Since this invasion is all about the appropriation of water, perhaps he’d be so kind as to lead his cavalry down to the water’s edge?”
“I do not think, Lady Glinda, that he listens to me overmuch,” said Miss Murth unhappily. “I would not command his attention.”
“Try. We are all under pressure, Miss Murth. We must do our best. And we may be confined for some time, so I suppose I should convene a colloquy among the help. Propose a common attitude toward this intrusion, and so on. What do you think?”
“I was never good at current affairs. I preferred the arts of needlework and correspondence.”
“Correspondence? To whomever would you write?”
“Well. The papers.”
“So you took the papers. You never read the papers, surely?”
“I found news somewhat sullying.” Miss Murth fluffed the feathers on Lady Glinda’s afternoon hat; they remained droopy. But Lady Glinda wasn’t going anywhere. “It wasn’t a wise choice, I now see,” said Miss Murth. “I might have followed politics, but I preferred the society columns. When you were in them.”
“Surely I’m in them still.”
Miss Murth sighed. “It’s a shame about the horse droppings.”
“Miss Murth. Are you listening?”
Miss Murth straightened her shoulders to indicate that she was indeed listening, damn it.
“Yes. With those cloistered ladies who think they’re so holy.”
“Miss Murth. Do try to attend. Out of the goodness of my heart I’m sharing what I have picked up.”
“The skirmish. Yes. Everyone was so vexed,” recalled Miss Murth, aiming at drollery and achieving condescension. “It completely upended the social season.”
Damn the attitude of help; Glinda was talking this out to get it straight in her own head. “When by winter’s end our Munchkinlander tenants and neighbors had retreated under the superior fire of the EC forces, they scurried back east. I hear they’ve been beavering about, renovating some antique fortress at the easternmost end of the lake. Where the Munchkin River debouches. So I believe General Cherrystone is stopping here to wait for reinforcements before pressing farther east. If he takes the fort at the head of the lake, he’ll have access to the river, which is a virtual high road of water straight into the breadbasket of Oz, straight to Bright Lettins and to the seat of the Munchkinland government at Colwen Grounds.”
“Where the Thropp family used to live, back in the day.” Miss Murth sniffed.
“Indeed. Well, not Elphaba, nor her brother Shell. Oh excuse me: Emperor. But their great-grandfather the Eminent Thropp ruled from that house. A pretentious heap compared to Mockbeggar’s understated charm! But never mind all that. It’s on the strength of his bloodlines that Shell Thropp claims Colwen Grounds and, by extension, the right to rule all of Munchkinland. So he starts with Restwate
r, which until the secession of Munchkinland twenty-umpty years ago, or something like that, had always provided water for the Emerald City.”
“If we’re through reviewing current events,” said Miss Murth, “the General is waiting for the list of staff. He threatens to imprison the whole lot of us if he doesn’t receive it by teatime.”
“Very well. Find a quill and take down this list. You can remind me of the names, if you will. Put yourself first, Miss Murth. Have you a first name?”
“Yes, in fact.”
“How alarming. Next, Chef. What’s he called?”
“Write Chef. Write Puggles the Butler.”
“His real name is Po Understar.”
“Oh, this is so tedious! Am I expected to remember these names? Is that the lot? Are we missing anyone? I think that’s it.”
“You requested a chambermaid.”
“That’s right, I did. Now whom should I pick? There’s Mirrtle. She’s a little cross-eyed but she plays a mean hand of graboge. There’s the broomgirl who does the steps. I don’t recall her name. And then silly Floxiaza. No, she steals my cologne. Not Floxiaza. What do you think? Mirrtle, shall we?”
“I like Mirrtle,” said Miss Murth. “One can rely on Mirrtle to keep a civil tongue to her superiors.”
“Then I’ll choose the broomgirl. Write down the broomgirl. What is her name?”
“I’ll ask her,” said Miss Murth. “Nobody ever uses it so I doubt she’ll remember, but maybe she’ll surprise us all. May I deliver this now? I don’t want to appear cowering but the General seems insistent.”
“I suppose I should sign it.”
“I have signed it for you.”
“You’re a blessing in disguise.” Glinda looked her over. “A very capable disguise. You may consider yourself dismissed.”