Field Notes, Installment II.
Somewhere around the second or third day of her travels, someone directed the girl to seek out the Snættlyng.
“‘E’s an odd creature,” warned the man after a moment.
“Odd how?” asked the girl. “Odd-dangerous as in ears that face both ways and poisonous spurs on its heels, or odd-strange as in eats cheese scones loaded with elderberry jam?”
“What’s odd about that? Though I prefer grape meself,” returned the man. Looking more closely at the girl, he sniffed and added, “Well, you may not find ‘im odd. Bookish little type ‘e is. Never without a pile of ’em. Never seen the point of ’em myself. ‘Cept as doorstops.”
“I like books,” said the girl.
“There you have it,” said the man, his deepest suspicions confirmed. “Jus’ yer cup o’ tea.”
She parted from the man, jotting down the directions he gave her with a little question mark beside the information received, for she could not bring herself to trust people who ate grape jelly. (And who can blame her?)
Suspicions of grape jelly notwithstanding, the man’s directions proved accurate enough, and the girl found the Snættlyng. It had made a little fire for itself to heat a kettle of water, and while the girl saw scones laid out, there was no grape jelly to be seen, so that her hopes of sensible conversation rose at once.
The Snættlyng was a peculiar little creature with neat, polished tusks and a pert, violet nose. Its linen coat was pressed and it had a wine-colored cravat and dark green shoes. When it spoke, the Snættlyng did so with a slight slurping sound, as if not entirely in control of its tongue. The two shared a very pleasant cup of tea despite the fact the tea was black as mud and the creature could not stop apologizing for the fact that there was no milk and there were no biscuits.
“Ginger bithcuits,” mourned the Snættlyng, “are my favorite. I’m very thorry I cannot offer you any. I thought I’d packed thome in my thatchel, but I picked up a penthil bockth by mithtake. Alath.”
Try as she might, none of the girl’s assurances that the tea was sufficient comforted the creature, and their conversation continued to be peppered with intermittent lamentations over the lack of biscuits.
As they talked, the Snættlyng (whose name, the girl learned, was Livy) squinted at its companion in a manner that made the girl fear she had something on her nose or in her teeth.* Still, if both were a little self-conscious, it did not prevent them from having a long and pleasant conversation, and it was from the Snættlyng that the girl first heard of the Master of the Menagerie.
“Oh my,” said the Snættlyng, “if it’th odd creatureth you’re after, then you want the Mathter of the Menagerie. Hith collecthion ith famouth! Oh no, my dear. I’ve never met him mythelf. I don’t go that far afield. It’th true that one hearthe odd thingth about him, but then, people are tho critical. I wouldn’t pay any attenthion to rumorth if I were you. Theek him out, then come back and tell me all about it. Thith hath been delightful!”
Regrettably, the Snættlyng had no information to provide his guest on how to find this Master of the Menagerie, but it assured her that the Master’s collection of the unique and peculiar was so famous that if she continued on, she would be sure to find someone who could direct her. So, the girl said her goodbyes to the Snættlyng, stopping after she was out of sight to write down a description of the little creature. Just as she was about to close her notebook, the girl remembered something else and scribbled for a second.
bithcuits biscuits and milk next time.”
- The Snættlyng thought the girl rather odd for the way she kept raising her handkerchief before her nose and mouth. It suspected that she had false teeth which were giving her trouble and felt very, very badly for her.
- After longer acquaintance, the girl learned that the Snættlyng suffered from near terminal nearsightedness; and although the creature would rather have eaten oatmeal (which it loathed) for the rest of its life than admit to it, the Snættlyng was entirely dependent upon the thick spectacles which it had swiftly stowed in its satchel at any visitor’s approach. The Snættlyng never wanted its visitors to feel as if they were “under the microscope” of its lenses.