First Tourmaline: conclusion
He minded intensely. Being cleaned out of store…just to learn if they would rob him properly, once he’d shut the door and was alone with them. Or they might not rob him, but he would starve for obligation anyway, and could not send the distress signal to Palma. Her scorn would be blistering. Why he would not fend for himself, if it were only food he needed…fend for himself! Like the others did.
The woman was telling him their names, chattering on the way up the hill (the man and his younger daughter had got ahead, and seemed to be leading Anton to his own house). She had some story as well—he couldn’t listen for agitation—one in which the old man figured. Her father had once taught the difficult grammar of the peninsula’s tribal language. A private tutor in a private home. The doctor had fled on one of the last boats leaving.
“So we’re out of employment, all of us.”
“I’m sorry… “
And she said it too. He was embarrassed at this inadvertent comedy. She was not. He had been going to ask her, again, what was her name.
She asked, “What is your name?”
“Anton,” he told her. And then felt he might be rude. He was sure he couldn’t be…but let it drop. In that way, he had not learned hers.
“Where the adjectival phrase takes the place of a noun; where we grammarians employ the hyphenated construction…which is, of course, a bit of shorthand for us; I mean for us alone…they, while officially, the nomads use our own alphabet…” Professor Swisshelm had lost himself. He removed his plug of tobacco and placed it, to be used again, on a glass saucer, the sealing cap of a canning jar. Where had he got tobacco? His daughter had served a surprising omelet, made from real egg. She had given her guest a cup of cocoa, thin and watery…and rather shame-making, as they’d all sat watching Anton drink it.
“In fact, generally they use no written means of communication at all, the Hidtha. Most are illiterate. Ah! I was going to say…it is all in the context. The curious aspect is that the noun, rather than the adjective, changes case depending upon the actor.”
“So, they are natural philosophers. A thing has only those properties it takes from its observer. Please, professor, will you write some of these phrases down, that you think I ought to know?”
The approach was blatant. Anton had been suffering through this lecture, weighing the possibilities. The obvious…that Swisshelm was nattering, because today he had an audience, and that, bound in duty—in all cases of tourmaline, Anton must listen with the closest attention. It was a luxury to have anything on paper, and Swisshelm might refuse.
“I will do you one better,” he said.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)