Bartleby crept toward the pool with a soundless step, canting his head and looking as though he were listening for something. A short silence, and then his head lurched to the left, his ears perking, his nose twitching, his eyes ablaze with maniacal glee. “Do you hear it, sir knight?” the old man whispered, in a feverish hush, his fingers curling against his palms, his stance scheming as he tiptoed across the cobblestones.Damson listened and surveyed the plaza. “I confess I hear nothing, sir-”
“Shh!” Bartleby sibilated. He slowly pointed to his ear, stared into the distance with a feral aspect, and slunk low to the ground. “You are not listening hard enough.”
Damson closed his eyes and concentrated. His fists tightened, he grimaced and cringed, and listened for some semblance of a familiar sound: the chirrups of warblers in the chestnut tree, the psithurism of the soft wind browsing the boughs, the brontide of callers from the markets in the far distance were all he could hear. There must be something else that I am meant to hear which I am not hearing, he conceived. I must not be attending hard enough. He held his breath and listened with all the fervency his attention could command. He squinted and trembled, tried to hear beyond the sounds that were already in his perlieu, his fists shook in concentration, but the more he listened, the more he was certain of hearing nothing else. Do you hear anything beyond the birds and the trees, sir giant? Damson thought, trying things Rannig’s way.
Rannig twiddled his thumbs and seemed unconcerned. Ye mean can I hear what Bartleby’s wants ye to hear?
The knight’s eyes flickered to the side momentarily. Yes. Yes, I believe so. “But,” continuing aloud, “might I know what I am meant to hear?”
“The bell…” Bartleby breathed, his eyes ablaze with raging exultation. “The bell, sir knight…Its tinkling sounds marks his coming…”
“But whose coming, sir?”
Bartleby could not hear; he was too busy skulking toward the entrance to the plaza, and then, as though something had summoned him, Bartleby righted, his featured besieged by militant fancy, and with a cry of “He’s here!” the old man scampered off, racing down the cobblestone path, laughing deliriously as he went, his silouhette just distinguishable as he quit the plaza with uncommon haste.
“By my armour,” Damson exclaimed, watching Bartleby’s outline vanish, “I have never seen the old man move so quickly.”
“You have never seen him chase an ice cream cart, my darling knight,” said Danaco, smiling. “it is rather like watching the racing hounds being loosed from the gate.”
“An ice cream cart, sir? But how can it be, sir? I heard nothing that sounded like a bell.”
“Your ears are not attuned to hear the plangent and dulcet tones, promising to bring Bartleby funds of exultation.”
“Did you hear a bell, sir giant?”
“I sure heard Bartleby thinkin’ about hearin’ it,” Rannig admitted.
Damson removed his gauntlet and plugged his ear with his small finger. “I must be losing my auditory senses,” said he, twisting his pinky back and forth. He pulled his finger out and grimaced at it, but the sound of feet scuffling and hardy applause drew his attention toward the plaza entrance. He raised his hand to his brow and tapered his gaze, and mounting the horizon he descried the outline of the old man, kicking up his legs and clicking his ankles together in hysterical exultation, and the outline of a push cart following close behind. “I cannot believe it,” Damson exclaimed, taking his hand from his brow. “Is it true, sir, that he heard the bell from the cart all the way over here, sir? Can it really be true?”
Danaco grinned and looked arch.
“By my gauntlets, that is an astonishing talent the old man has.”
“Cultivated over years of practice, sir knight. Dogs learn to listen for the calls of their masters, and the old git learns to hear the sweet sounds of one whom he keeps nearest his heart. Like the cooing of a dove which calls to its lover from across a grove, Bartleby flocks toward his fated mistress from across the continent with all due alacrity. He is rather spry when he wants to be. Only look how he gambols.” Danaco shook his head. “The poor man who must unite Bartleby with his greatest love—he must want some of his wares after such a journey.”
The ice cream vendor, fatigued and sorefooted, trudged along the cobblestones with a bent back and a heavy tread, his feet grinding against the stones, forcing himself to push his cart closer and closer to the plaza, ebbing ever nearer with every strained step, the bell attached to the cart clanging gently at is swayed, and Bartleby, frolicking before it, leaping and throwing up his hands in jubilation, exclaiming, “The ice cream cart is here!” ushered him toward the party with all the elation that his gladdened heart could afford. The vendor wheeled his cart toward the pool and stopped beneath the chestnut tree, where he stood heaving for breath and wiping away the perspiration decorating his brow, whilst Bartleby pranced around the cart in eager anticipation. When would he open the hatch? When would he unleash his wares? When would he begin serving and stacking and decorating? were the questions which inundated the old man’s mind as the cart came to a halt.
“’Aven’t seen you in a whyle, sir,” the vendor panted, flicking the sweat from the back of his hand. “Thought you was ill or worse.”
“Ill, sir?” said Danaco, approaching the cart. “Bartleby Crulge is never ill when there is ice cream to be got.”
Bartleby hovered over the cart and slottered, staring down at the cart, imagining all the delicious flavours ready to burst on him.
“An’ you, cap’n?” said the vendor, readying his scooper. “’Ow you keepin’?”
“Does the vendor know you, sir?” said Damson, with some surprise.
“Of course he does, my good knight,” the captain replied. “Who do you think secured all his trade routes from Lucentia through Sesterna? Ice is hard to come by in Marridon this time of the year. Marridon’s mountain ranges hardly have glacial peaks. All the ice needed to make ice cream during a Marridonian summer must come from elsewhere. Lucentia gets her ice from the mountains along its southeastern borders, and Sesterna the same, and even Frewyn’s southwestern mountains are heigh enough to have some snow on them all year round. Ice cream is a true delicacy in the summers in Marridon, and the ice must be got and safely conveyed somehow.”
“My bissniss is still in bissniss ‘cause o’ ‘im,” said the vendor, unfastening the latch to his stores. “Lost all my ice one summah due to trade blockade. When I told ‘im I was gonna go belly-up ‘cause, the cap’n stepped in an’ offered a ‘and.”
“You think it was generosity that spurred me on, but do not you know that if I had not helped you, sir, Bartleby should have died very shortly after.”
The old man was hopping back and forth and staring into the opened hatch, rubbing his hands in fiendish glee as the vendor scraped the layer of ice protecting his wares aside. “I want chocolate!” he cried, taking a few silver from his pocket and thrusting hand toward the vendor. “And I want a cone, please. And two scoops. And double chocolate—is there double chocolate? –I would like double chocolate, please. With chocolate shavings and chocolate whipped cream—there is nothing I like so much as chocolate whipped cream with chocolate shavings—you do have some, don’t you?”
“I getcha, professah’,” the vendor sighed, smiling at Danaco as he reached down into his cart. “Two o’ the double chocolate jus’ for you.” He retracted his hand, and from his cart produced two immense orbs of chocolate ice cream with a darker and richer chocolate ribboned throughout. He reached for his stack of cones and crushed the ice cream against the top, creating a neat skirt around the rim. He opened a smaller hatch to the side and plunged the cone downward, and when he brought his arm back, the ice cream was bedecked in chocolate shavings. “’Ere’s your whipped cream,” said the vendor, taking a spoonful of darkened cream from a small bowel nestled in ice chips below him. He shook the cream from the spoon with a flourish, topped it with more shavings, and when the cone was fully clothed, he handed it to Bartleby. “There it is, professah.”
The silver coin was thrown into the vendor’s coin basket, and before the coin could rest with a clink, Bartleby snatched the cone and plunged into it with violent agitation. “Ice cream!” he cried, in an ecstacy. He hummed in rapture, licking the skirt of the cone with shameless delight. “I have not had ice cream—mmf, delicious—in far too long. Go on, Vathyn, my dear, and get what you like—mmf, I love chocolate whipped cream, absolutely love it—there is money enough for everyone to have something—everyone take what they like--mmm, sensational.”Bartleby stepped to the side and made violent love to his ice cream under the shade of the chestnut tree, slooming and slottering in rapturous pleasance, his mouth caressing the frozen cream, his tongue painting the skirt of the cone, declaring in the midst of his mellifluous bliss that there was “nothing like an ice cream-- nothing at all!” and consumed the whipped cream with an exuberant hum.