I mended the balcony today. Father would have been quite impressed that I remembered the skills he taught me, even if I didn’t follow him into the family business. It occurs to me that I should do this more often. Aside from making a seat for Mitternacht for Aoibheann’s tea-party, mending the broken tiles on the roof, and planning this wrestling ring, I haven’t done much in the way of carpentry in far too long. I kept my hand in more when I was on board ship, assisting the ship’s carpenter occasionally, just for something constructive to do between ports. It wasn’t a particularly difficult repair. All I had to do was trim the broken ends of the rail, cut two replacement uprights, make a few joints and it was done. I thought I had seen Alec when I started walking across the garden, but it must have been my imagination, for Aoibheann was quite alone when I got there. She offered to help, but there wasn’t much I needed an extra hand for. I asked her to get me a glass of beer and to fetch some of the paint tins that I had seen in the cellar. As ever, her face made it apparent that she doubted my abilities to do these things, as she doubts so many things about me – calling me scrawny and unable to do any heavy lifting, doubting my carpentry skills, doubting, it sometimes seems, even my accountancy skills, for which I can produce proof. Not, I suppose, that she would recognise my degree certificates or any of my formal qualification documents. I wish I understood this aspect of her view of me. Aside from concealing my nature, I have always been completely honest with her, honest in my book-keeping (an honest accountant, and that’s without any professional body to keep me in line!). I have never been anything but kind to her, save the occasional teasing about her cooking. And yet, she seems to regard me with suspicion and doubt at every turn.
I tried to explain how it took hours and hours of practise, as I was driving in the nails, true and square, as Father taught me, but that only led to more confusion. She wanted to know if people really did that – stare at each other for hours to practice. After a while, I realised she was referring to facial expressions, she fearing that her face was an open book, while we ‘nobles’ manage to conceal our feelings behind our expressions. I was not entirely sure what to make of that. I could only tell her what I learned at an early age, of how to deal with bullies by not giving them the reactions they wanted. Years of practice not responding to taunts like ‘carrot-top’ and the like have enabled me to develop my ‘noble’ face, as Aoibheann regards it. I could only tell her how I did it, by thinking about things that made me happy, or things I was interested in, and adjusting my expression appropriately, even if I was unhappy or bored stiff. I have no idea if that will help her or not. Surely, in her world, when people were accusing her of being a witch, or worse, she must have learned to conceal her reactions.
By now, I was painting the renewed timbers with some of the paint from the cellar. She grew bored with this and wandered off. By the time I got back from putting my tools away, she had gone. Some day, I really must have that talk with her, as I promised Mitternacht. I can but try.