Chapter 5 The Outrage of Sir Hoffman
She snappily ordered Mr Seamus to count the money until there was enough to pay Dr Cuthbert as she quickly departed to see what was going on. She arrived at the fireplace… Pierre was still sitting in his armchair, pipe in his mouth, eyes closed, in the usual temper he usually is. Beside the mantelpiece lay pieces of soot.
Elizabeth did not seem to have been very intrigued by the mantelpiece. She did not see it, but, rather, she saw that, even after all the hullabaloo and cacophony, Pierre seemed all but alarmed… he was still you-know-what. It was not five minutes after until she turned her head to look at the sooty place she was in.
Mr Seamus, by then, had hurried over to the living room, abandoning his money. “Are you alright there, Elizabeth?” he inquired sternly. “I hope nothing’s gone wrong. Great Scott! What do you think you’re doing? By Jove, Elizabeth, this is something I’ve never, I recall never happened in my entire sixty years of living on this planet.”
“I’m not very sure… it seems like someone’s fallen down the mantelpiece. Hopefully, it isn’t Blair. Charming young lad, he is. It would be tragic for him to fall down it. But no, that would not come to reality, and I hope it never will,” said Elizabeth.
By then, the small sooty creature dusted itself off. As the soot dispersed, under it was a small marmot-creature. It was not anything you would expect to see. Not a simple little marmot. It was a marmot with the horns of an antelope and the wings of a wyvern. “Oh goodness gracious!” mumbled the marmot-with-horns-and-wings. “I cannot believe. At first I fall down a five-metre chimney (and I’m lucky I’m not dead) and not I’m all dusty and sooty! What a day it has been.”
“Sorry,” said Mr Seamus randomly.
“Oh, and how embarrassing! Now I’ve got two people looking at me. What shame! I’m going to ruffle up my fur as I like it first thing I get back. For now, I tell the both of you, that you are definitely not looking at a Horn-Wing Marmot who has daftly fallen down a chimney. Is that clear? Good,” and brushed itself a few times to be safe. “Now I have a good mind, the both of you, to say that I am a Horn-Wing Marmot, one of the very few creatures who hide during spring and summer and come out in winter and autumn. I’ve a few companions, all Horn-Wing Marmots, namely Schneider, Schmidt, Fischer, Meier and Weber… oh, and Albrecht, Bachmann, Zundel and Schulz as well. My own name is proudly Sir Hoffman or Hofmann, I don’t mind.”
“I see, Sir Hoffman,” said Elizabeth. “I have never heard of a Horn-Wing Marmot. But I should see my encyclopaedia,” and went away and soon returned with a heavy book. It was titled simply ‘Encyclopaedia for Those who Do Not Know Much’. Elizabeth briefly found in the thirty-third page, a ‘Horn-Wing Marmot’, described as ‘fussy’, ‘short-tempered’ and ‘gets angry when can’t get out of bed’.
“I am most certainly not fussy,” said Sir Hoffman. “My good man, Schulz, wrote many encyclopaedias, and I tell you, none of his have described a Horn-Wing Marmot as that. Mainly because Schulz is one himself… but never mind. He is the smartest Horn-Wing Marmot in the wood, you know, I’ll say that to you.”
“But, Sir Hoffman, the encyclopaedia can prove that…”
“The encyclopaedia can prove nothing apart from the fact that it doesn’t know any bit of knowledge,” snapped Sir Hoffman. “Oh, and, ma’am, the technical name for Horn-Wing Marmots is most certainly not Marmotus Angrius. Schulz says it is precisely, and I am not doubting it, Marmotus La Callidus. ‘Callidus’ is Latin for ‘clever’.”
“What about those other companions of yours? Fischer and Meier and them?”
“None of them are half as smart as Schulz. The one that is closest to being as smart as a Horn-Wing Marmot like Schulz is perhaps Bachmann. He’s a retired composer. Dearest Bachmann’s pretty old. He’s an octogenarian. Bachmann composed mazurkas, waltzes, symphonies, sonatas, sonatinas, concertos, ballades, quartets, impromptus, rhapsodies… hundreds and hundreds…” and Sir Hoffman continued for hours without end.
“Bachmann was most known for composing À bord de l’Arche. Seven years ago, dearest Bachmann was asked to compose background music for a movie, and he did. It was one of a kind, a symphony, to be exact. It was called, by Bachmann, Flutwellen, which was a German word meaning ‘Tidal Waves’ in English. Bachmann’s Begräbnis des Königs…”
It was soon past tea and Blair began to demand for it, but Sir Hoffman said, “Why let me finish first! Ahem. Let me tell you more about Bachmann. One other of his oh very marvellous works is Avion de minuit, a well-written divertimento.”
Elizabeth simply replied with a long, sheepish yawn, though politely.
“Now, have I ever told you about Bachmann being a violinist himself and a composer. All at the same time! Ninety-nine of his pieces were all for violin, and the rest were for a gigantic orchestra. These were various concertos and symphonies…”
Elizabeth could not hold it any longer and, rather boorishly, snapped, “May you please kindly shut up, Sir Hoffman! Yes, I said ‘shut up’ alright. Couldn’t stand it when people these days start talking and forget where they are and have to be told to be quiet!”
Sir Hoffman was rather offended by this. “Why, how dare you!” he replied indignantly in a tone which was deeper than an ogre’s. “I’ll shut up then, if you can shut up as well… now you asked for it!” and his pair of wings lifted him upwards, as smoke began to pour out of his nostrils and whoosh! fire blew out of his mouth and the mantelpiece flickered, before a fire began. Blair quickly hurried into the room to see the hullabaloo.
Elizabeth scurried, on all fours, over to Blair before Blair could say anything and she, in a moment without a thought to say, sat down and told Blair to get on her back. Blair did so, and they hurried off to the kitchen and shut the door.
“What about Pierre?” inquired Blair. “What about him? I’m sure that the strange little thing would set him on fire. Pierre will perish amidst all the fire, and it is rather unsafe, I say, to be in the kitchen, for the ceiling may cave in. It is a safer thing if we were outside. But, once again, to get to the front door, you have to pass the fire-breathing zealot,” said Blair wisely. “But what about Pierre? He’ll be roast fox if he stays there.”
Elizabeth simply hid there, shuddering at the thought. Little did she say anything, for a fox did not say anything when they were in great despair. At last, she managed to stutter in a still-shuddering tone, “Oh dear, oh dear! Goodness gracious. Was I too greedy and I fled myself? It is my fault, you see. My sin I have caused. Aren’t I horrible!”
“Calm down, Elizabeth,” snapped Blair. “Don’t go on blabbering dramatically about a fault you have caused. Crying over spilt milk, and doing nothing about it, Elizabeth. We must right our wrongs. But this wrong seems rather impossible to right.”
Elizabeth grabbed a broom valiantly, before she tripped over her tail, sending the swift broom to go flying off, nearly battering Blair over the head. Blair hid behind a teapot, in which the broom battered instead. “Are you alright, Blair?” inquired Elizabeth.
“Fine as pie,” came the reply, as he crawled out from behind the teapot. “Not a bit hurt so don’t you worry about me. I used to find teapots stupid fat things which held water… I didn’t bother calling tea ‘water’… but now I find them as good armours.”
Elizabeth grabbed the broom, this time cautiously, but she clumsily stumbled over that useless little tail of hers again! Blair took cover behind the teapot once more in for safety. But the broom did not head for Blair. It soared through the window between where the kitchen was and the living room (where Sir Hoffman and Pierre were), as smithereens of glass scattered all over the floor. Elizabeth stared out the window. Pierre was now, at last on his feet, prancing around, hiding from the fire-breathing zealot namely Sir Hoffman.
Sir Hoffman was too indulged with Pierre rather than the broom, but the second after, the broom walloped the Horn-Wing Marmot right over the head, as one of his wings, a very delicate pair were they, fell off and Sir Hoffman tumbled down to the floor.
Elizabeth and Blair rushed over to see Pierre. “Pierre! You seem to have gotten up on all twos. At first we thought you were ill or something, your face was absolutely pale! What made you get up so easily? Elizabeth will tell all of this to Dr Lorenzo Cuthbert,” said an overwhelmed Blair. “Goodness you’re fine. You’re not pale-faced anymore.”
Pierre stared at Blair as if he was crazy. “Why, I have no memory of sitting, pale-faced… I will never intend to do it. What a lower-class thing of me to do!” he thought out loud. “Perhaps you need to see a psychologist, Blair… you don’t seem right.”
Elizabeth slowly went over to the telephone and waited for Dr Cuthbert’s response. A few seconds later, came the reply of, “Dr Lorenzo Cuthbert, at your service. If you are a client, please tell me about your matter at once. If you are an employee of mine, please also tell me about your matter at once, thank you. What do you have to say?”
“Elizabeth Foxtail,” replied Elizabeth politely. “Hullo, Dr Cuthbert. Ah, yes, I’ve got a bit of good news and a bit of bad news. I shall begin with the good news. Pierre is at last out of his armchair. Alleluia! Well, the unwelcome news is Pierre seems to have become daft.”
Dr Cuthbert frowned and sighed. “I suppose he has something of which psychologists and neuropsychologists have not been able to clarify yet. As a specialist of psychology, I, Dr Cuthbert, will do my best, but I am afraid my best will not be enough. It is what I’m scared of. I cannot tolerate failure. Failure is its own punishment, I would say.”
He frowned and sighed again, before saying, “Well… suppose he’s fine now, there’s not much of what I imagine I can do, and my salary’s going down since I will not accept any other clients, no matter how much they offer, for that is what I promised you.”
“If it really is this difficult, I say I raise my offer to three thousand pounds and fifty-one pence,” but Dr Cuthbert said wisely, “No, Elizabeth. It is not about the money. Not the profit I’m worried about. I’m worried about my client and my patient, Pierre. Since the illness Pierre’s illness is not clarified, it may even be lethal or deadly.”
Elizabeth put the phone down after wishing Dr Cuthbert a comfortable day. “Now he really has got a bit of an errand,” chirped Blair cheerfully, who was eavesdropping every word they said on the phone. “Dr Lorenzo Cuthbert, I see, is very humble. How about, I suggest, we do something about Sir Hoffman? He’s said ‘sorry’ to us, but we promised not to ever offend him, or he’ll abolish the whole burrow into millions of little pieces.”
“If he’s said sorry, we owe him not to offend him,” said Elizabeth. “He shall be set free. Now!” and she pranced over to Sir Hoffman. “Where do you live? You can go now.”
“I live nowhere in particular,” replied the Horn-Wing Marmot. “We Horn-Wings find a place and rate it, henceforth if it meets our expectations, we shall live in it, and your oh so sweet and cosy burrow meets my expectations finely and perhaps beyond. I will live a very unperturbed life in your burrow. Now I wish you could lay my bed and we’ll have tea. Yes, exactly as I do it. Lay my bed. I would love it soft and warm, that will be great.”
“Very well,” said Elizabeth as enthusiastically as she could, and disappeared into one of the five bedrooms to lay Sir Hoffman’s bed. Blair went to assist, only to escape the little ‘fire-breathing zealot’ as he called it, as politely as possible, with a feeble ‘goodbye’.
“Elizabeth!” hissed Blair to Elizabeth, who was spreading the bedsheet. “Are you crazy? Letting that fire-breathing zealot live with us who nearly demolished the burrow? We’ll throw him out of the burrow first thing tomorrow morning. It shall be agreed.”
“Blair, don’t be silly,” snapped Elizabeth. “Sir Hoffman is living with us and that’s that and I’m not denying it. One day he may find another place to live but for now, he lives a happy life with us. If you say such thing again, Sir Hoffman will have your bed. Now do be quiet, Blair, or Sir Hoffman shall have your bed, as you heard,” and that shut him up.