Dunstan looked over his shoulder and grunted as Bertie strolled in.

Dunstan looked over his shoulder and grunted as Bertie strolled in.

“Thought I saw a light in your window,” Bertie said.

“Just getting back?” Dunstan asked.

“Had to take my girl home. She lives way out by the King’s castle.”

Bertie paused, hoping that Dunstan would ask him who his girl was, but Dunstan had already turned back to his book.

“You’re up late,” Bertie said after he had settled into his favorite chair.

'You're up late.'

“It’s too hot to sleep with a girl in one’s bed,” Dunstan muttered.

“Oh! Who’s in there?”


“The redhead?”

“That one.”

“Oh! Well, I don’t know but I guess she’s little enough, she doesn’t take up much space or make much heat. Neither do you, for that matter,” Bertie grinned.

Dunstan turned a page.

Dunstan turned a page.

“My girl’s real small too,” Bertie said. “I don’t know, but I guess we look that silly together. She’s pretty, too. I don’t know what she’s doing with a gangly ass like me. But she likes me.”

“Girls always do like you, Bertie,” Dunstan mumbled.

“I know! Isn’t it funny? My Ma says it’s for my personality.” Bertie laughed. “I don’t know if it’s a compliment for my personality or an insult for my beauty.”

'I don't know if it's a compliment for my personality or an insult for my beauty.'

Dunstan ran a finger along the page, as if trying to make out a poorly-​​written line.

“Anna says that if I – ”

“Anna?” Dunstan’s eyes had finally left his book.


“That’s her name: Anna,” Bertie said eagerly, pleased that Dunstan had at last asked him about his girl. “And she says – ”

“Which Anna?”

“Anna, the daughter of the tiler from down by the castle. She says – ”

'She says--'

“Anna!” Dunstan wailed, and choked, and wailed again: “Anna?”

“You know her?”

Dunstan slung his book onto the table behind him with such force that it slid all the way down to the other end and bumped into the wall. But he was already standing in front of Bertie before it hit. “What did you just say?”

'What did you just say?'

“‘You know her’?”

“Before that.”

“Anna, the tiler’s daughter?”

“No!” Dunstan howled. “You did this on purpose!”

“Did what?”

'Did what?'

“Stand up so I can hit you!”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Stand up!”

Bertie was six inches taller than Dunstan, and he did not mind standing up to remind him of the fact.

He did not mind standing up to remind him of the fact.

“Do you mind telling me what I did before you hit me? My lord?”

“That was my girl! My girl! Anna!”

“What?” Bertie wailed.

“All last year? Don’t you remember?”

'All last year?  Don't you remember?'

“I remember you had a girl, but I didn’t know it was Anna!”

“Well, it was! You can’t do this to me, Bertie! Your best friend!”

Bertie folded his arms across his chest and scowled. “Well, I like that!” he snapped. “My best friend. My best friend, who never told me all last year so much as the name of his girl!”

Bertie folded his arms across his chest and scowled.

“I’m telling you now!”

“No, I’m telling you now. You should have told me then, and I might have left her alone now. But you didn’t. And I would have told you already a few weeks ago, before it was too late, if you ever did anything besides sitting in this room and writing poetry about how tragic life is, instead of getting out and living it!”

“I’m a poet!”

'I'm a poet!'

“You’re an annoying, spoiled little shit, is what you are. Telling your friend he can’t see a girl because you once had her.”

“What have you done with her?”

“I like that, too! I’m the one who should be asking you what you did with her. If I marry her and I find out she’s not what she should be because of you, then we shall see who will be hitting whom!”

'Then we shall see who will be hitting whom!'

“Because Sigebert’s wife must be above suspicion!” Dunstan sneered. “After all the girls who ‘aren’t what they should be’ because of you!”

“Anna is not that sort of girl.”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” Dunstan cried.

“Then what are you howling about? You knew you couldn’t marry her!”

“Do you think I don’t know that either?”

'Do you think I don't know that either?'

“Listen, why don’t you go spend an evening with the Princess now and again, instead of hopping into bed with miscellaneous redheads and then hopping out again to write poetry about how hot and sweaty it is to sleep with girls! You might start acting like a real gentleman if you ever spent any time with real ladies.”

“Don’t try to give me any lessons about being a gentleman, Bertie Hogge!

'I may be a farmer's son.'

“Well, I may be a farmer’s son, but I guess my Ma raised me up to be a gentleman in the important ways. And I don’t know how Her Grace your mother went so far wrong with you. I always thought she was the finest lady I knew, even if she did laugh when she farted, which my Ma never did. But I guess if that’s the worst you ever did, you would be a real fine gentleman, too.”

He was scarcely recognizable.

Dunstan’s face had grown so contorted with rage by the time Bertie finished this speech that he was scarcely recognizable. Bertie expected to be hit after all, though he thought it might have been worth it.

Instead Dunstan only turned and kicked open the door that led down a narrow corridor to his bedroom.

“Where are you going?” Bertie asked him mildly.

'Where are you going?'

“To bed!”

“You might open a window…”

“Shut up!”

Bertie heard a muffled cry, and a more distant, “You too!”

The bedroom door slammed, and then there was silence.

Then there was silence.