Two peas in a pod, that’s what the locals called them. And they were. If the pods were from different vines. And so long as the vines were from different gardens. On opposite ends of the earth.
However, there was no denying that Lord Léon and Lady de Silva had been designed for each other. He was fat, and red, and indolent, and she was slim, and cross, and sharp.
They had each worn rings on their finger, Lord Léon’s a dull gold, and Lady de Silva’s burnished silver, until Léon’s pink flesh had swollen up around the metal,
and Lady de Silva had discovered that divorce had become fashionable.
Now they lived in identical mansions that they insisted were completely different on opposite ends of the village,
locked in a never-ending skirmish where the only casualties were their ever-diminishing fortunes.
For example, Lord Léon once bought several magnificent red rosebushes, and planted them on the edge of his garden where passers-by could appreciate them,
and where he would never have to see them. The scent of the rosebushes was beyond compare, and they were more beautiful than any flowers the village had ever seen before.
That was, until Lady de Silva unveiled the prize of her gardens: fifty awe-inspiring orchids filling her hothouse, as silver as the moon.
Truly, the villagers said, these were the most splendid flowers ever to have been grown in the kingdom, if not the world.
Lord Léon’s prize-winning roses mysteriously vanished in the middle of the night.
Lord Léon seethed in his defeat, until he made the important discovery that flowers were out. In the world of nobility, menageries were the way to go.
He wasted no time in sending emissaries to the furthest corners of England to collect the most exotic animals he could find.
When the first four returned with a deer, two rabbits and a badger, he was mildly disappointed, but when his fifth emissary presented him with a large, electric blue, flightless bird,
he was so moved as to shift himself from his couch to shake the man’s hand.
“Splendid, splendid!” He said jovially. The news that his emissary brought with him was, unfortunately, not so welcome.
Lady de Silva, the estranged wife, was forming her own menagerie, and rumour had it that it contained an impressive collection of rather talented field mice. Lord Léon was puce with fury.
Drastic measures would have to be taken. His envoy would have to extend their search to the Colonies.
He apologised profusely to his set upon ambassadors, to send them to such a lawless place, but they were very good about it.
Their search this time was a little more successful, and they returned triumphant, bearing a disgruntled beaver, two three-horned moose (meese?
), a very guilty racoon, and a fascinatingly obese Californian.
“How shocking,” Lord Léon cried, waddling over to the caged Californian. “How dreadful!”
Again, though, Lady de Silva had one-upped him.
“There are reports,” his emissary murmured, “of an absurd animal with a duck bill, a beaver’s tail, and webbed feet.”
“And,” the emissary said regretfully, “and a cantaloupe. I believe it’s a kind of fish. It’s meant to be dreadfully difficult to get a hold of.”
“What a pill,” Lord Léon murmured. “What a pill. We shall have to extend our search further.”
“Oh dear,” said the emissary faintly.
Lord Léon’s ambassadors found no shortage of unusual animals in Africa, with one proud emissary named Alan returning with an Aardvark.
His Aardvark was outplayed by a bright red Elephant Shrew, though, which was in turn unseated by a particularly irate looking Red-Lipped Batfish.
All these triumphs, however, were no match for Lady de Silva’s latest addition to her menagerie.
The acquisition of a winged horse had Lord Léon furious for almost a full hour, before it became far too fatiguing.
Then he simply fell into a lethargic depression from which no one could raise him.
Attendants tried to appease him by rumours that the horse’s wings were hardly wings at all, merely budgie-fluff, but had a pillow hurled weakly at their head for their trouble.
Finally, Alan the emissary appeared at the door to Lord Léon’s chambers, insisting that he had the very thing to rouse him.
“Oh, what?” Lord Léon said listlessly upon being approached. “Really, Alan, I am far too upset for anything.”
“Lord Léon,” Alan said importantly, disregarding this speech entirely, “I have the animal that will make your Lordship’s menagerie a thousand times better than Lady de Silva’s!”
“Really, really?” Lord Léon whispered, raising his head slightly.
“Most certainly, my Lord.”
“Where is it?”
“Follow me, my Lord.”
Lord Léon, after a moment of indecision between the merits of acting his Cheltenham Tragedy and wasting away in his bedroom,
and proving himself to be a far more prestigious person than Lady de Silva, he finally allowed himself to be hauled out of bed.
He tottered after Alan, moaning weakly about his poor feet, and nerves, and everything else, until his breath was stolen from him in a long wheeze as he stepped into the back gardens.
“I say,” He choked. “I say.”
Alan beamed proudly as Lord Léon gazed at the animal that he had travelled across countries, rivers, mountains and deserts to bring back for his petulant master.
This magnificent mammal had the head of an eagle, with a prominent curved beak and sharp eyes, but its hindquarters were anything but. A lion from the shoulders down, this thing was captivating.
“I say,” Lord Léon repeated. “What on earth is it?”
“It’s a Griffin, my Lord,” Alan said impressively. “From Ethiopia.”
“Oh, from Ethiopia,” Lord Léon said, relieved. “Good show, Alan, jolly good show. What’s this?”
The Griffin shook its head impatiently at not being admired as Lord Léon received a letter from a golden tray that an attendant held out to him.
“I say,” he said mildly. “This is my old friend, Bill. Jolly good fellow, Bill. He says that menageries aren’t the thing any more. Good thing he told me. Nice fellow, is Bill.
Well, that’s that.” He glanced at the Griffon and shook his head regretfully. “Nothing for it, Alan,” he said. “Better send it all back at once. Nothing else to be done.”
And he wandered back into his mansion, deep in thought about his friend Bill, a placid expression on his face as Alan stared after him in astonishment.