MFB16: A Chat with Mrs. Dumplesugar

Edmund could not help but be distracted that day, for he had much on his mind. He cheered when Susan did well in the little archery competition in the courtyard, held under the auspices of their ever-thoughtful host, King Lune; he clapped when the Dwarfs, Borglun and Dursolt, performed a friendly boxing match to entertain the Archenlandian court; and he even finished his sword-fighting match with Darian from two days prior, although he had not quite the same heart in it as before. It may have been attributed to the fact that Prince Corin was bound (literally) to a chair upon his father’s grim-faced orders, sobbing for the duration of the match, but Edmund hardly noticed the boy until afterwards.

Peter watched him with a mixture of pride, love, and overwhelming guilt, blaming himself for each ill-fended blow and missed opportunity, knowing that their conversation of the morning had cast his brother into confusion. No doubt it had affected his skill and concentration, but there was no remedy for it now. What the High King did not understand was why, even though he had done his level best to rectify the situation, he felt none the better for it now. Surely, upholding virtue ought to have brought some sense of relief; but on the contrary, he felt miserable for having upset his darling Edmund, while his own guilt had not been assuaged at all. His only comfort came in the form of Lucy, who (sensing her oldest brother’s melancholy) had perched herself on his knee as she would at home, much to the amusement and delight of the courtiers and ladies, who were charmed to see how attached the two siblings were.

When Edmund had fulfilled what was required of his honour with Darian and caught his breath, he offered to play with Corin again; for he realised that while he was sparring with the knight, he had not had the time to think of anything else, and the escape of physical activity seemed far preferable to the brooding tumult of his mind. He had seen Peter’s hands wrapped protectively around Lucy, and for the first time had sensed an irrational surge of anger towards his sister. He had been denied the comfort of his brother’s hands (although in truth, Peter had never said that he could not hold him in such an innocent way) with the closeness of their blood relation as one of the reasons, but their sister sat there enjoying what Edmund so longed for himself. He wished to clear his head with activity, and Prince Corin — having just been released from his chair — was more than willing to provide it.

Then it was time for their noon repast, and Edmund chose to sit with Corin, Mrs. Dumplesugar, and Per at the low table set out especially for them, rather than at the high table with Peter and his sisters. However, his vacated seat was offered to Lady Avenel, the slim, dark-haired girl with whom Peter had danced the other day. Edmund kept stealing glimpses of her — or rather, of Peter, who spoke courteously to her as well as to the Lady Verinia on his other side. The hornets returned to torment Edmund and he could not eat much of the food set before him, as delicious as it was. In fact, he thought he might become sick if he forced himself, and soon lay aside his fork.

“Is anything the matter, your Majesty?” Per asked, noticing his unease.

“No. I’m just… not hungry,” Edmund replied lamely, playing with his napkin.

“Not hungry!” Mrs. Dumplesugar exclaimed, black eyes opened wide. “A cub of your age, after so much exercise, not hungry? Eh, King Edmund, there must be something the matter!”

“Please don’t make a fuss,” he whispered, hoping nobody else had heard her. “It’s nothing, I’m sure. I just… I haven’t been feeling myself today.”

“I know what will set you to rights,” she responded in a low tone to match his. “Some weak tea with honey and lemon. Worked wonders on my late husband, whenever he was out of sorts!”

“I’ll have some brought right away,” Per said, jumping up to catch one of the kitchen maids before Edmund could stop him. It was prepared and presented to him with equal alacrity and, sipping the steaming-hot liquid, the young king had to admit that it was rather soothing. He still was not able to swallow any more of his food, though, and gave his dessert to an astounded and grateful Per.

After the meal, Prince Corin was taken up to his room for a nap (with much protesting, of course) and Per retired to catch a few much-needed winks himself. Edmund, not wanting to rejoin his siblings, headed out with as much nonchalance as he could muster to stroll the ramparts. He had not gone far when he heard the patter of small feet behind him.

“Eh, King Edmund! Your legs carry you much faster than mine,” Mrs. Dumplesugar said, panting to catch up to him. “You’ve grown like a wild weed this past year!”

“I suppose so,” he responded, wondering why (though not with annoyance) she had chased after him. The Raccoon clambered up the lower stone wall on the inside of the ramparts and walked deftly along the top, bringing her almost eye-to-eye with Edmund.

“Now, my dear Majesty,” she began in a confiding tone, “I know that something’s bothering you for you to hardly touch your vittles! And I couldn’t help noticing — a-begging your pardon, of course — that your eyes kept straying to a certain Daughter of Eve with pretty brown hair.”

Edmund scowled without realising it. “It’s not what you think, Mrs. Dumplesugar,” he retorted, walking a little faster, though not so fast as to leave his companion behind.

“Ah! My wise young King knows what I’m thinking, does he?” she chuckled, making him turn to her sharply. “I can tell well enough that you’ve no interest in her, bless your precious heart — not when you’re glaring daggers at her! And at the lovely Lady Verinia, too, since almost the moment we arrived.”

“I don’t like her,” Edmund declared, in a low voice so that the soldiers guarding the wall could not overhear him. “She reminds me of the White Witch. And the other girl, too — she laughs at everything Peter says, when he jolly well can’t be that amusing all the time…”

Mrs. Dumplesugar nodded with a knowing look. “Of course, they’re both trying to be as amiable and pleasing as they can. And why shouldn’t they? Your royal brother is not only the High King of Narnia and a respected Knight, but also quite the handsome catch, isn’t he? Not to mention a marvelous gentleman.”

Edmund bit his lip for a moment, for though he could hardly deny that what she had said was true, the hornets in his stomach were stinging him with a vengeance, paining him so much that he was forced to halt and grab the wall to support himself.

“Ah, my poor, dear, King Edmund,” the Raccoon murmured, laying one hand on his shoulder and patting his arm with the other. “I see how it is. Your brother is growing up into a Man, getting ready to make his nest with a mate, and you’re feeling left behind. It happened with my own Timmy… He was the runt of the litter, poor boy, and lame to boot; but when they were all kits, his oldest brother Johnny would carry him on his back so that he wouldn’t be left out of their games. And you know with us Beasts, each litter grows up at pretty much the same time, and they all find their mates and leave at the same time, too. But with Timmy being lame, he felt he couldn’t ask the girl he fancied to be his mate, and watched all his brothers and sisters leave our home, with nobody to love for himself. Eh, that was a sad time…” Mrs. Dumplesugar sniffed, and sat down upon the wall. “If it hadn’t been for Betsy, the youngest of our neighbours’ cousin’s litter the next year, I don’t know what would have become of Timmy. But Betsy came along, and she was just a bitty little thing — we called her Bitsy Betsy, wouldn’t you know — and tenderhearted and sweet, and just adored my Timmy. For he was always very clever with his paws, and could fix anything like new, he could, and so he asked her and she accepted and they made their nest together the next year. I just saw their newest litter born this spring, and not a single one of them is lame, thank Aslan, even if they are a bit on the small side, but that’s no matter…”

Edmund politely listened to her rambling, but his thoughts were racing miles away.

Am I afraid of being left behind by Peter? he wondered. Is that why I don’t like those girls — because one of them could take him away? I suppose it’s true that I don’t much care for the thought of Peter getting married… An added pang in his stomach hinted that he disliked the thought much more than he cared to admit. But what does it matter? he demanded fiercely and bitterly of himself. Peter doesn’t want to touch me because he thinks it’s wrong. If he’s not going to care about me anymore, what difference does it make if he marries some girl?

The pain that hit him next nearly doubled him over, spreading out from his stomach into his chest and even weakening his limbs. If he hadn’t been clutching the wall already, he might have fallen; as it was, he sank down beside it to his knees, burying his face in his arms. “There now, there now,” Mrs. Dumplesugar soothed, stroking his hair. “It’s not the end of the world! And no matter what happens, my dear, your brother will always be your brother. He may not have as much time to spend with you as before, once he has cubs of his own, but it’s not like he’ll love you any less, you know!”

The hornets turned to an angry swarm, swirling in his stomach — had he eaten his lunch, he might have become truly sick at this point. But Edmund drew in a deep breath, steeling himself against the tears that threatened to spill out.

“Of course not,” he said savagely. “How can he love me any less, when he loves me so little already?”

“What!” cried Mrs. Dumplesugar. “That’s nonsense, my child, and you know it! There’s no brother as loves his littermates as much as King Peter, and there’s not one Beast in Narnia — nor Creature nor Tree, either — that doesn’t know it! By the Lion’s mane! Whatever on earth would possess you to say such a thing?”

Miserable and wretched, Edmund pressed his face against his arms, hiding the hot tears that had broken the dam.

“I don’t know,” he answered — and that, at least, was true. He didn’t know why Peter had forbidden something that was so wonderful; he didn’t know why that bothered him so and made him feel so hollow inside, leaving room only for the stinging hornets; and he didn’t know why, after all the hurt that his brother had inflicted upon him, he should still be so upset at the mere thought of Peter eventually growing up and marrying.

“Boots and broomsticks! You’re in a frightful state if you really think King Peter cares so little for you,” the Raccoon fretted, still pawing at his hair. “Perhaps we should have a healer take a look at you… They’ve no Centaurs here, but maybe a Human doctor might do as well, in a pinch…”

“No! Please… Mrs. Dumplesugar,” Edmund protested in alarm. “It’s nothing! I’m just… I’m just out of sorts today. Please forget everything I just said! I didn’t mean it…”

Seeing the tears glistening on his red-rimmed eyes, the kindly Beast regretted scolding him.

“All right, then, King Edmund — I shan’t mention it to a soul. But you mustn’t let yourself dwell on such thoughts! Eh, I’m sure you’ve a right to be melancholy at times, as much as anybody else, but if you should ever find yourself doubting your dear brother, you should try to remember how worried he was for you the other day, when Prince Corin smacked you on the head. Did you see how fast he was at your side?”

Edmund bit his lip again and nodded. Yes, Peter had been kind to him then, although Edmund felt as though all that had changed.

“And when you felt so bad, worried that you must have hurt his hand — why, he was the one bleeding, but he was more concerned for you!

Edmund’s lip quivered as he nodded again, now feeling guilty for having made such an accusation against his brother.

“Now, my good King Edmund — for I’ve no doubt that you are good, whether you’re out of sorts or not,” Mrs. Dumplesugar continued, “tell me truthfully: Is there a single person in all of Narnia that your brother loves more than you?”

He had opened his mouth to catch a breath just before she asked this, and before he could stop himself he’d blurted out, “Lucy.”

“Ah!” The Raccoon cocked her head to the side, as though beginning to see things more clearly. “He loves her very much, which is only natural. But what makes you think he loves her more than you?”

“Because… well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? He lets her sit on his lap all the time, and lets her do anything she wants,” he said, then swallowed, amazed and ashamed at how petty that had sounded even in his own ears.

“I see… and what has he refused to let you do?”

Edmund flushed uncomfortably at the question, and muttered, “It’s… It’s private. I can’t talk about it — Peter said so,” hoping that the very fact that he’d been forbidden to discuss the matter would work in his favour.

“Ah. Then of course you mustn’t,” she agreed matter-of-factly. “But really, King Edmund,” and here she lightened her tone, thinking that her young charge was in need of a respite, “you’re altogether too old to be wanting to sit in your brother’s lap, aren’t you? A big, strapping lad like you!”

She realised how badly she had misjudged him when he buried his head once more in his arms, and wept silently and bitterly.

“Oh, dear… Oh, dear, dear, dear,” she murmured, stroking his hair again. “My poor, sweet child! You’ve grown so tall so quickly that we’ve all forgotten that you’re scarce more than a cub! And with no mother or father here, either…”

She sat there for a long time, trying to comfort him, and thoughtfully waving off the soldiers who attempted to approach them. Although mortified by his own leaky waterworks, Edmund was honest enough to admit that it was comforting to have Mrs. Dumplesugar pet him, even if the reason for his distress was not exactly that he had been forbidden to sit upon his brother’s lap.

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