Home > Stardust(9)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Tristran read it to himself, looking for something about which he could begin to talk: a conversational gambit of some kind — any kind.

He heard his voice saying, “You’ll be having rice pudding, then, I would imagine, Miss Forester.” As soon as he said it, he knew it had been the wrong thing to say. Victoria pursed her perfect lips, and blinked her grey eyes, and said, “Yes, Tristran. We shall be having rice pudding.”And then she smiled at him, and said, “Mother says that rice pudding in sufficient quantity will help to stave off chills and colds and other autumnal ailments.”

“My mother,” Tristran confessed, “has always sworn by tapioca pudding.”He put the list on a spike. “We can deliver most of the provisions tomorrow morning, and the rest of it will come back with Mister Monday, early next week.”There was a gust of wind, then, so strong that it rattled the windows of the village, and whirled and spun the weathercocks until they could not tell north from west or south from east.

The fire that was burning in the grate of Monday and Brown’s belched and twisted in a flurry of greens and scarlets, topped with a fizz of silver twinkles, of the kind one can make for oneself at the parlor fire with a handful of tossed iron filings.

The wind blew from Faerie and the East, and Tristran Thorn suddenly found inside himself a certain amount of courage he had not suspected that he had possessed. “You know, Miss Forester, I get off in a few minutes,” he said. “Perhaps I could walk you a little way home. It’s not much out of my way.” And he waited, his heart in his mouth, while Victoria Forester’s grey eyes stared at him, amused. After what seemed like a hundred years she said, “Certainly.”Tristran hurried into the parlor and informed Mr. Brown that he would be off now. And Mr. Brown grunted in a not entirely ill-natured way and told Tristran that when he was younger he’d not only had to stay late each night and shut up the shop, but that he had also had to sleep on the floor beneath the counter with only his coat for a pillow.

Tristran agreed that he was indeed a lucky young man, and he wished Mr. Brown a good night, then he took his coat from the coat-stand and his new bowler hat from the hat-stand, and stepped out onto the cobblestones, where Victoria Forester waited for him.

The autumn twilight turned into deep and early night as they walked. Tristran could smell the distant winter on the air — a mixture of night-mist and crisp darkness and the tang of fallen leaves.

They took a winding lane up toward the Forester farm, and the crescent moon hung white in the sky and the stars burned in the darkness above them.

“Victoria,” said Tristran, after a while.

“Yes, Tristran,” said Victoria, who had been preoccupied for much of the walk.

“Would you think it forward of me to kiss you?” asked Tristran.

“Yes,” said Victoria bluntly and coldly. “Very forward.”

“Ah,” said Tristran.

They walked up Dyties Hill, not speaking; at the top of the hill they turned and saw beneath them the village of Wall, all gleaming candles and lamps glimmering through windows, warm yellow lights that beckoned and invited; and above them the lights of the myriad stars, which glittered and twinkled and blazed, chilly and distant and more numerous than the mind could encompass.

Tristran reached down his hand and took Victoria’s small hand in his. She did not pull away.

“Did you see that?” asked Victoria, who was gazing out over the landscape.

“I saw nothing,” said Tristran. “I was looking at you.”Victoria smiled in the moonlight.

“You are the most lovely woman in all the world,” said Tristran, from the bottom of his heart.

“Get along with you,” said Victoria, but she said it gently.

“What did you see?” asked Tristran.

“A falling star,” said Victoria. “I believe they are not at all uncommon at this time of year.”

“Vicky,” said Tristran. “Will you kiss me?”

“No,” she said.

“You kissed me when we were younger. You kissed me beneath the pledge-Oak, on your fifteenth birthday. And you kissed me last May Day, behind your father’s cowshed.”

“I was another person then,” she said. “And I shall not kiss you, Tristran Thorn.”

“If you will not kiss me,” asked Tristran, “will you marry me?”There was silence on the hill. Only the rustle of the October wind. Then a tinkling sound: it was the sound of the most beautiful girl in the whole of the British Isles laughing with delight and amusement.

“Marry you?” she repeated, incredulously. “And why ever should I marry you, Tristran Thorn? What could you give me?”

“Give you?” he said. “I would go to India for you,Victoria Forester, and bring you the tusks of elephants, and pearls as big as your thumb, and rubies the size of wren’s eggs.

“I would go to Africa, and bring you diamonds the size of cricket balls. I would find the source of the Nile and name it after you.

“I would go to America — all the way to San Francisco, to the gold-fields, and I would not come back until I had your weight in gold. Then I would carry it back here, and lay it at your feet.

“I would travel to the distant northlands did you but say the word, and slay the mighty polar bears, and bring you back their hides.”

“I think you were doing quite well,” said Victoria Forester, “until you got to the bit about slaying polar bears. Be that as it may, little shop-boy and farm-boy, I shall not kiss you; neither shall I marry you.”Tristran’s eyes blazed in the moonlight. “I would travel to far Cathay for you and bring you a huge junk I would capture from the king of the pirates, laden with jade and silk and opium.

“I would go to Australia, at the bottom of the world,” said Tristran, “and bring you. Um.” He ransacked the penny dreadfuls in his head, trying to remember if any of their heroes had visited Australia. “A kangaroo,” he said. “And opals,” he added. He was fairly sure about the opals.

Victoria Forester squeezed his hand. “And whatever would I do with a kangaroo?” she asked. “Now, we should be getting along, or my father and mother will be wondering what has kept me, and they will leap to some entirely unjustified conclusions. For I have not kissed you, Tristran Thorn.”

“Kiss me,” he pleaded. “There is nothing I would not do for your kiss, no mountain I would not scale, no river I would not ford, no desert I would not cross.”He gestured widely, indicating the village of Wall below them, the night sky above them. In the constellation of Orion, low on the Eastern horizon, a star flashed and glittered and fell.

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