meant for sending. If it were mine, it would have an L for âLumley,â right here.Â .Â .Â .â She traced a finger over the cursive capital A engraved at the top of the page. The A stood for âAshton,â of course, but she had seen similar initial As elsewhere: on a mysterious letter received by an acting troupe hired to entertain at Lady Constanceâs holiday party last Christmas, to give one example. Or as the signature on a dust-covered painting in the British Museum, to give another.
âAll those As! It is an A-mazing coincidence,â Penelope thought. She crumpled her pretend invitation to Simon and put a fresh sheet of paper on the blotter. âThen again, A is a very common letter. With only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, they are all bound to turn up sooner or later. Although, come to think of it, one hardly ever sees a J. Why, Js are even rarer than Zs.â
(Many years later, a popular word-making game would be invented that assigned points to letters based on how scarce they were: The scarcer the letter, the more points it was worth. If Miss Lumleyâs mind had not already been so thoroughly occupied, she might well have invented such a game herself at this very moment, and thus changed the course of history forevermore. Alas, her attention was fixed on the task at hand, and that invention, like so many others, would have to wait awhile longer.)
Her quill hovered over the paper as she considered how to begin. Dear Esteemed Steward, Keeper of the Household Accounts and Other Mathematical Necessities, she wrote. The letter need not be long, for it was simply intended to let the steward know how much salary she was owed. But Penelope longed to shore up her spirits after that humiliating conversation with Lady Constance and the failed pretend-letter to Simon, and so she decided to indulge herself.
âTa-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM, ta-TUM,â she murmured, to remind herself how the rhythm of the words ought to sound.
Miss Lumley labors hard to earn her pay,
And so you must disburse her funds today.
âIambic pentameter, and a rhyming couplet, too,â she said, pleased with her effort. Then she wrote the amount, whimsically added Yours in both sun and shade, and signed Lady Constanceâs name with a flourish.
The steward cocked an eyebrow when he saw the note, but made no remark. Penelope half hoped he would notice and perhaps even admire the jaunty, galloping rhythm of the words, but he simply counted out the money and went back to his budgets.
H ER GOOD MOOD RESTORED AND ample money for train tickets in her apron pocket, Penelope climbed the stairs back to the nursery. âHow lovely it will be to introduce my three pupils to Swanburne, and show them my own childhood haunts,â she thought, taking the steps two at a time. âWe shall have to pay a call on Dr. Westminster, the Swanburne veterinarian. However, I must be careful not to leave the children unsupervised near the chicken coop.â The sight of all those plump, delectable, buck-buck-buck ing chickens might be too much for the children to resist, especially if it was getting close to lunchtime.
Inside the nursery the Incorrigibles marched in circles, waving their feather dusters (as you recall, they had been instructed to dust the bookshelves while their governess was out, but Penelope had been gone for half the morning, and that chore had long since been finished). As they marched, they recited.
âTyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?â
Even without the full benefit of Penelopeâs lesson on poetic meter, the children had discovered that Mr. Blakeâs poem naturally fell into a strong marching beat. âHup, hup, hup!â Alexander directed his siblings. âTygers, halt!â They began to tickle one another with the dusters.