LINAEUS AND HIS ALLERGIES
It was Linaeus Driddle who monopolised me. With his ill-health and allergies, he’d previously seemed the least significant of the crusaders. But now he made me his personal slave.
‘I just know I’m going to have a bad night tonight,’ he announced. ‘I shall need a lot of extra attention.’
He arranged for me to sleep in a kind of closet next to his own bedroom. I had to follow him upstairs after dinner and prepare his room for the night. He stopped suddenly outside the door, his nose twitching.
‘You go in ahead of me,’ he ordered.
I threw open the door and entered. For a small village inn, the room was surprisingly well furnished. There was wallpaper on the wall and a flower-embroidered bedspread on the bed. An ornamental vase stood on a dresser, a jug of water stood on the night-commode.
‘Looks like the maid’s taken care of everything,’ I commented.
He remained in the doorway. He sniffled and rubbed at a wet drop on the end of his nose.
‘I don’t like it,’ he muttered. ‘I’m already experiencing stress and tension. I wish I had Helmut instead of you.’
I willed myself to patience. At last he shuffled forward. One slow pace after another.
He appeared to be in a state of hypersensitive alertness. He quivered and shivered as though passing through some kind of invisible bombardment. I swear the tiny hairs on his skin stood out like vibrating antennae.
After six paces, he froze. His eyes bulged like pools of jelly,but he wasn’t seeing anything. It was as though the interior mechanism of his body had jammed up.
‘I don’t know what I’m trying to find.’
Still he couldn’t move.
‘Turn me,’ he said. ‘Turn me to look all around.’
I took his arm and rotated him. More quivering and shivering, like the hairspring of a watch. Then he uttered a high-pitched squeal.
‘On the bedspread!’
On close inspection, I saw that the embroidered flowers were indeed small pink roses. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘I’m allergic to roses.’
‘But they’re not real roses,’ I pointed out.
‘Doesn’t matter! They’re too nice! Too bright and beautiful! I’m allergic to all forms of niceness.’
I couldn’t be bothered to argue. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Remove the bedspread. Out of my sight.’
He remained absolutely frozen while I carried the bedspread from the room and dumped it in the corridor.
‘It’s gone,’ I told him.
After another long minute, he set off in motion again. He got as far as the middle of the room before another disaster struck. Suddenly he broke into a paroxysm of sneezing.
This time I knew what to look for. He was facing a square of framed needlepoint which hung on the wall. Yellow stitches on a pale green background spelled out the words:
GOD IS LOVE
I shrugged. ‘You want this taken out too?’
‘Yes!’ Doubled up and gasping for breath, he sprayed out mucus like a fountain. ‘Take it out, stamp on it, break it to pieces!’
‘The innkeeper might not approve.’
‘Lord Sain will pay.’
So I carried the offending object outside and made loud stamping sounds as if breaking it to pieces. Then I hid it out of sight under the bedspread.
When I came back in, Linaeus was perched on the edge of the night-commode, dabbing at his eyes with a huge linen handkerchief.
‘I’m having hot flushes now,’ he said. ‘You’ve upset me.’
‘Me? Why me?’
‘You should have removed those things before I came in.’
‘How was I to know? You never said what you were allergic to.’
‘You should have. You should have put yourself in my shoes. How can people be so self-centred? Think what it’s like to be me for a change.’
I was beginning to hate his white jacket, white breeches, white gloves and peevish voice. ‘I think it must be very difficult being you,’ I said slowly. ‘If you’re allergic to so many things.’
He lowered the handkerchief. ‘They didn’t expect me to live, you know. They said I’d die before the age of five. Then when I reached the age of five, they didn’t expect me to survive to the age of twelve. Then they predicted twenty-one. But I showed them! I proved them wrong! I’m going to keep on living as long as anyone. Longer.’
‘The doctors and experts. My parents believed them.’
‘Ah, right.’ I remembered Fliss’s story about the Driddle family. ‘How old were you when your father died?’
‘It was just after I’d come through my worst asthma attack. I still had the pains in my lungs. He didn’t help at all.’
‘Weren’t you shocked? I know it affected your sister enormously.’
‘I don’t have time to be affected. I’m an invalid.’ There was a note of triumph in his voice. ‘I have to concentrate on my health.’
I was beginning to sense something inexorable about Linaeus Driddle. He was absolutely devoted to his own preservation. But there was still one thing I didn’t understand.
‘If you’re health is so bad, why are you on this crusade?’
Linaeus sniffed. ‘Because I’m a New Believer,’ he said simply.
'I never heard of New Believers. What is it, some new form of Christianity?’
I had to back away from the spray.
‘Don’t say that word!’ he spluttered.
I confess I did it deliberately. I was rewarded with an even greater fit of sneezing. Linaeus rocked back and forth on the edge of the commode until I thought he was going to be sick. His bloodshot eyes focused accusingly upon me.
‘I’m burning up with temperatures! How can you be so insensitive?’
It took him ten minutes to calm down. When he recovered, he was in a vengeful mood. He invented a hundred ridiculous tasks for me to carry out. I had to rumple the sheets of the bed, which were too smooth for his liking. I had to stuff pieces of cloth around the window to keep out the draughts. I had to adjust the position of every item of furniture in the room—and then readjust it, over and over again.
The more he observed my frustration, the more tasks he invented for me. Even when he got into bed, he wasn’t ready for sleep. I had to scratch his back, change the water in the jug, blow on his mucus-sodden handkerchief until it was dry …
It was almost midnight when he finally let me go.
‘Don’t sleep too deeply,’ he warned. ‘I’ll knock on the wall if I need anything. I’ll probably wake you up every half hour.’