Nora MacDermott found herself brought up short, wrestling with two variant texts of the same scripture passage, texts she would never have even imagined had her Bibelgesellschaft connections not gained her entry to this astonishing library. Seeing them in their original language opened up such a deeper understanding, though the Greek of biblical times was difficult, and she was still so new to it. Perhaps when Father Kircher arrived--
At the barked interruption, the book dropped into her lap, and the slow parsing of the ancient words flew out of her head. She raised her eyes to see Andrew Button, the second son of the printer and divinity student William Button, leaning with one hand on a chair beside the entry and looking into her face with a peculiar intensity. The words he'd just spoken echoed again in her head. She barely recognized the language as Klingon. The exact meaning refused to come to mind--a greeting of some sort.
She managed to bring forth the proper response after a moment or two of scrabbling--"NuqneH?" Literally, What do you want?
Without an instant's hesitation, Andrew answered, "Dochvan vIneH."
"Enough, Andrew! You've exhausted my smattering of Klingon. I remember five phrases in the language, and one of them should never be said to anyone who carries a weapon. And why by all that's holy would you address me in such a tongue? Why would you even squander your time on it? There is no one to speak it to."
Nora snapped, "Andrew Button, I opened them only because Doctor Green used two snippets from them in a lecture to contrast a true translation against a paraphrase. But the language belongs only to an imaginary world and an imaginary people. Father allows me the freedom to study that which Grantville offers, but useful things. Holy Scripture, in a depth I could find nowhere else. The keeping of accounts in the modern way, the learning of health and nutrition, which will serve me well when I become mistress of a household, or perhaps of an estate if the quest for a suitor brings me what they laughingly call the luck of the Irish. I hope to study some of the healing arts, the real ones, so that I can assist in his practice when we return. But Klingon? Useless! And of that, what was that last thing you said to me?"
He hesitated for a heartbeat or two, with a half-mischievous, half-nervous smile, then blurted, "It means, I want you." The intensity of his unwavering gaze made it clear in what manner he wanted her.
Nora blushed. "And you said such an outrageous thing to me in Klingon?"
"Why not Klingon? I have tried at school since the beginning of the summer term to catch your glance. I might as well have been a water fountain. Do you know what they call you? The Ice Queen. So, seeing your interest in the tongue, I thought to try Klingon."
She closed the book with a snap. "Well, then, it's my attention you've got, all right. And are you sure you want such attention? What is it you want?"
"You have asked me that, in Klingon and in English, and I have answered in Klingon and in English. Fair Nora of the midnight-dark tresses, I . . ."
"Oh, what a loon you are! In Klingon, 'What do you want?' is no more than a polite greeting. I do know that, at least. It's not really a question."
"I know that, too, and gave an answer just the same."
Nora felt herself blushing again. Off balance, the first words that came to hand were, "In English, one would say, 'May I help you?'"
"Yes, thou canst help me. Wouldst care to 'take a walk in the woods?' Or—" He ground to a halt. In the latest Amideutsch slang of the high school, a walk in the woods meant hugging, kissing, and often enough far more intimate forms of caressing.
A thick silence hung in the air for four or five seconds, before Nora could find her tongue again. "Or? Or? Were you about to suggest 'a visit to the hayloft,' perhaps?" In a walk in the woods you kept your clothes on. During a visit to the hayloft you didn't.
"I—I didn't say that."
She came halfway out of the chair, laying aside the rare book as she did. She pitched her voice low, so as not to be heard throughout the house. "No, you did not, but I hold no doubt that you thought it, though you found the presence of mind to forbear saying it. And why would you imagine that we are on terms to 'thee' and 'thou' each other? We have never passed more than polite words at school."
"And so? What has polite gotten me? Not a word in return. The Klingon is so much more honest and straightforward. It doesn't hint or imply, it declares. Dochvan vIneH."
"Well, you shall not have me. Father will certainly find me a suitable match in time, and as I'm fifteen, that will not be for a good long while, and as we're Catholic, I mean to go to the altar a maid and never with an Anabaptist, and as he can expect to be one of Dublin's foremost physicians when he's after finishing his medical residency here, I can well expect to reach higher than a printer's son. Even a clever one who corrects proof in three languages."
She looked squarely at him, silent for a moment. He was good enough to look upon. He stood straight, an inch or two taller than herself, regular of features, towheaded, quick of movement, well-filled out from the farm work that fed the college, and the nick on his jaw showed that he'd begun to shave. For that matter, he had a warm smile and a fine way with words, regardless of the absurdly wrong ones he'd spouted just now. But the sheer impropriety! "I assure you, I shall have no trouble resisting foolish temptation."
"Temptation? You will not give any boy so much as the time of day. So I thought to speak plainly. To offer perhaps . . ."
"To offer 'what I need,' you mean?" Another of those high school slang phrases. "What you imagine I might need?" Nora delivered a blunt two-word American phrase of disdain and rejection that she had never expected to use.
Andrew got a startled look on his face, then a mischievous smile. "Well, since you speak of it, there is fresh straw in the loft."
"I didn't mean that! You know I didn't!"
"The clever Nora MacDermott not saying what she meant or meaning what she said?! Who could imagine that?"
Nora could turn no redder than she already was. "Andrew Button! I put too much value on my reputation to date like the American girls, and even they don't date at fifteen if they are of respectable family and have the good sense of a chicken!"
"As said Papa Capulet to Paris, 'My child is yet a stranger in the world; she hath not seen the change of fourteen years, let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.' And said Paris to Papa Capulet, 'Younger than she are happy mothers made.' " He whirled into an extravagant theatrical bow. "And that is most fitting! A fair Capulet to my Montague; a match of love and passion. The trellis to your window is made of words."