The Bouquet

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Hermux Tantamoq series

Copyright: Michael Hoeye

Dr. Turfip Dandiffer looked down from his visitor's chair at Linka in her hospital bed, tapping his cane against the floor. His broken leg still hadn't quite healed yet. Linka wondered when he would get to the point; he was too edgy to be simply paying her a visit of condolence.

He cleared his throat. He pulled his whiskers. He plucked at his ear.

"Linka," he said, "I've been thinking. The past few weeks have been – well – quite an ordeal for both of us, but I must say that meeting you has been one of the more exciting moments of my career."

He smiled down at her. She was just about to thank him when he went on: "In fact, I never thought I'd meet a female mouse as remarkable as yourself. I realize we don't know each other very well, but … ahem … listen, Linka." He leaned forward. "I've grown very fond of you over the past few weeks. You are just the sort of woman I could see myself sharing a life with. Bright, witty, attractive, sensible – yes, indeed. Linka, would you like to marry me? Excuse me for not kneeling – bad leg and all."

He fished a box out of his tweed jacket, opened it to reveal a substantial diamond ring, and held it out hopefully.

For a moment, Linka was stunned – and for her, the woman who had flown through storms and nearly died at the hands of a mad cosmetic surgeon, that was saying a great deal.

"Marry you?" she yelped.

"Yes." Dr. Dandiffer looked rather hurt. "Why not?"

Why not, indeed? Linka closed her eyes and tried to think of a reason. Instead she thought of her mother, who had visited her only two days ago: Now do you realize that flying is no occupation for a woman? It's no wonder you've frightened away all the men. Gallizanting about in that plane of yours … don't you want a family of your own, Linka? A good husband and ittle mouse babies of your own? How will you ever find them at this rate?

Linka had wearily repeated her assurances that she did not want a husband and babies, that she was completely happy flying solo. Both of them had known it wasn't true.

Linka did want a family. She was tired of living alone on disreputable but cheap Pickdorndle Lane, in a house that always smelled of mold, no matter how often she cleaned it. She wanted her mother, her aunts and her older sisters to get off her case. And she wanted someone to take care of her for once.

She opened her eyes. Turfip Dandiffer was quite middle-aged, with slightly drooping whiskers and a long, lanky figure, but he had a pleasant face and so far had been very kind to her. He was a brilliant scientist, and a brave one, to travel as far as Teulabonari to find the moon plant. He was open-minded, if his dealings with the Natives were any indication.

She tried to make light of the situation.

"Do you snore?" she asked, smiling.

"Not that I know of." He looked slightly affronted.

"Do you leave the toilet seat up?"

"Er, no."

"Are you a morning or afternoon person?"

"Morning … I suppose."

"Oh, me too. Would you let me keep my plane?"

That was the million-dollar question and the both knew it. He looked down at the ring, then out the window, then at the bedpost next to her face.

"Ahem. Why, yes. Yes, of course."

Linka had the most peculiar feeling of standing outside of herself. Who was this mouse in the mint-green hospital gown, calmly interrogating a prospective suitor? Surely a marriage proposal should be somehow more romantic – thrills and chills, twitchy ears and pounding heart, etc.? Her ears were getting a little twitchy, but that was probably due to embarrassment. Poor Turfip looked embarrassed too. She shouldn't keep him in suspense like this any longer.

"All right … Turfip. Yes. I'll marry you."

His round gray face lit up in a happy smile – quite a charming smile, actually.

"Well!" he said, taking a deep breath. "That's wonderful."

He slid the ring onto her finger. It was rather heavy, and Linka wondered if she would still be able to fix her engine, weed her plants or knead dough while wearing that thing. But its rainbow sparkle looked quite lovely in the light and Linka was, though she wouldn't admit it, as fond of pretty things as any mouse woman.

That was when the door opened to announce the next visitor.

It was Hermux Tantamoq, carrying a bouquet of roses and forget-me-nots and a gold-embossed green case.

Mr. Tantamoq, the watchmaker. The last time she had seen him, they had been tied up together in a giant mousetrap about to close. He had thrown a nickel into the trap's mechanism, buying time – enough to save their lives. He had been concerned for her even in the middle of his own impending death.

From what the rats had told her during her imprisonment, he had been to her house. He had salvaged the moon-plant and Dr. Dandiffer's journal. He had asked around, determined to find out what had happened to her – and this after only one meeting in his watchmaker's shop, to drop off her dilapidated wristwatch. He had saved her life. Why? Out of benevolence – or … ?

"Mr. Tantamoq!" she exclaimed, to cover her confusion. "How very nice of you to come!"

She wondered if that was true. The sight of him did bring back some horrific memories, ones she would much rather put behind her. But Mr. Tantamoq himself seemed like a decent mouse.

She introduced him to Turfip and they traded small talk back and forth. He congratulated them on their engagement with hardly a blink. If he were really interested in her, he couldn't be that cool. Thank goodness he wasn't.

"I brought these flowers for you," he said. "And your watch."

He placed it gently on her nightstand. She opened it and put it on.

The feeling was amazing. She felt strangely complete, like a puzzle to which the last piece has been added. She was Linka Perflinger, aviatrix, again, with precision timing just a glance away. The casing gleamed. The golden band glittered. Everything was neat and straight and in order, just the way she liked it.

"You've done a wonderful job," she said warmly.

"It keeps excellent time." Mr. Tantamoq's black eyes had an unreadable look. "And I see that it's time for me to go. I wish you a speedy recovery, Ms. Perflinger. And I hope you'll be very happy. I wish you both all the best."

He left the room in long strides, the flowers still held tightly in his right paw. Linka's first impulse was to call him back – hadn't he said they were hers? – but it seemed silly and petty, somehow, and she listened to his steps echoing down the hall.

"Odd fellow," remarked Turfip. "A bit forgetful, wouldn't you say?"

Linka shrugged.

The door opened for the third time that afternoon. The nurse in charge of Linka's room, a pudgy, motherly squirrel, stuck her head in through the door. She was beaming.

"Thank you so much for the flowers, my dear," she chirped. "Your visitor just came by and dropped them off. How very thoughtful of you, Ms. Perflinger."

Turfip's eyebrows were raised almost up to his ears.

"Flowers? I – oh … "

Linka had to bite down a hysterical laugh. Really – it was too ridiculous. Couldn't Mr. Tantamoq keep track of his own gifts? The laugh died qickly, however, as she remembered the reasons he might have for his behavior. Either seeing her again had him traumatized due to their ordeal at the Last Resort – or he really was in love with her. Or both.

"You're welcome," she said.

The nurse came over to fluff Linka's blanket, adjust her pillow, and ask her repeatedly if she needed anything.

"Looks like you've got an admirer," said Turfip, with a wry glance at her watch.

Linka had just enough spirit left to retort: "Who? The nurse?"

"No, dear. Your little watchmaker friend."

Linka bristled. "Oh, please!" She waved her paw. "We went through something terrible together, Turfip. Naturally he'd be concerned for me. That doesn't make him my admirer."

"I jolly well hope not!" he was smiling, but it was not entirely a happy smile.

Linka looked down at her new diamond. Five minutes engaged and they were already arguing. Her parents were the same. Probably it was normal for married couples.

She thought of how delighted her mother wold be, now that she was finally 'settling down'. It would be a church wedding, no doubt, with a beautiful white dress. She would live in Turfip's elegant home and go to parties at Stepfitchler University. There were many worse fates for a young woman to end up with.

All the same, she wished she could have kept Mr. Tantamoq's roses.