Miz Brown is prepared to hold court in a sensible housedress and beaded slippers made by one of her numerous grandchildren. She has added a lacy shawl, but it's still a rather informal ensemble in which to entertain a gentleman caller.
Lilac mends the fire in the parlor and straightens the crocheted lace tablecloth on the tea table. She's on duty looking after the Brown family matriarch this week, and wants to make a good impression on the visitor.
Miz Brown is, alas, too elderly to be interesting to a gentleman caller, even if she donned the evening dress she wore in her youth, now stored in the attic. She might have bowed to practicality in the matter of dress, but she has no intention of foregoing her privilege of looking over a new arrival in town before the common horde extracts all the gossip.
Miz Brown: Do we have any of those orange-peel cookies, Lilac?
Lilac: Yes, and the maple sugar cookies too, and the honey cake with raisins.
Lilac has an attractively arranged platter ready to bring out on cue.
Miz Brown: Good. I wouldn't want our guest to think that Hannard's Ford is a backward rural outpost of no consequence, especially since it is.
Miz Brown: The man will figure it out soon enough, if he's as clever as I've heard, but there's no point in spoiling his illusions first thing.
Pistachio learned from his years in the military that the only way to be on time is to be early, and it doesn't do to keep a matriarch waiting, for many reasons. He arrives at Miz Brown's door exactly on time and knocks on it using the ornate bronze knocker.
Miz Brown: There, that must be him, Lilac.
Lilac: Oh, good. And right on time, too.
Miz Brown takes a last critical look at the tea table.
Miz Brown: Yes, it's to his credit.
Lilac bustles over to the door and opens it.
Miz Brown settles back into her "throne", as the grandchildren disrespectfully call her stuffed chair by the fire.
Lilac: Welcome. You must be Colonel Pistachio.
Pistachio: Indeed I am. But surely you couldn't be Miz Brown?
Lilac: Oh, goodness, no! I'm her daughter-in-law, Lilac. Let me take your coat and show you in to the parlor.
Pistachio hands Lilac his coat, waits for her to return without it, and follows her to the parlor.
Miz Brown waits within, looking not at all like the proverbial spider, despite her web of community ties.
Lilac does her best stab at formal etiquette.
Lilac: Colonel Pistachio to see you, Rose.
Miz Brown: Colonel, welcome to Hannard's Ford.
Miz Brown gives a charming smile.
Pistachio smiles broadly.
Pistachio: Thank you very much, Miz Brown.
Pistachio walks over to in front of Miz Brown's throne, takes her hand, bows over it, and kisses it.
Lilac is startled by the gesture. My, how romantic.
Miz Brown enjoys the gallantry, even as she tuts in obviously feigned displeasure.
Miz Brown: Forgive me for taking so long to invite you for a visit. The winter takes a toll on me, I'm afraid.
Pistachio gestures airily.
Pistachio: Of course, of course. I only moved into the house the other week or so.
Miz Brown: Yes, and after several previous visits, too. You can see that I do keep up with goings-on, even if I don't get about so much, any more.
Miz Brown is certainly better informed than the mayor, the various clergy, the school principal, or the police chief. Most of whom are her relatives.
Pistachio: I see you have your sources of intelligence. I would have come to you in the first place if I'd known!
Miz Brown dimples.
Miz Brown: It would probably have saved you some time, although some decisions shouldn't be rushed.
Pistachio: Indeed they should not. I was quite taken with your town the first time I saw it, I must say, but of course one must be careful, mustn't one.
Miz Brown: Do you like your new home?
Pistachio: As for the house, it's a very fine place once I had it cleaned out and some, er, necessary repairs made. The roof, in particular -- but I digress. Yes, it's a fine place to live all things considered.
Miz Brown: Lilac, serve the tea, if you would. And Colonel, you must tell me what made you decide to retire to an out-of-the-way spot like Hannard's Ford.
Lilac goes into the kitchen but keeps her ears open as she makes the tea.
Pistachio: Well, my friends the Balkens first put me on to it, but what made up my mind for sure was you, my dear Miz Brown.
Miz Brown: I'm flattered, I'm sure. But a bit confused, since as far as I can recall, we've never met?
Miz Brown's memory is usually sharp, but not always.
Pistachio: Oh, no, we haven't. But as I'm given to understand, it was you who made sure that Hannard's Ford got a Sime Center, and that was a point of great importance to me.
Lilac knew that the Colonel was a donor -- he donated just about the first time he came to town. Everybody was talking about it.
Miz Brown: You interest me, Colonel. Why was it such a priority?
Pistachio: Well, that's a story. But first, if you don't mind?
Pistachio indicates a chair opposite Miz Brown and close enough to make conversation easy.
Miz Brown: Certainly. Please, make yourself comfortable.
Pistachio: As perhaps you know, I was a private in General Dermott's army at the battle of Shen, and gave my first donation then and there. That changed my life. But since then, it hasn't been, well, it hasn't been possible for me to both donate and maintain my station in life, unfortunately, unfortunately. On my second retirement from my consulting business, though, I found myself with time on my hands and...
Pistachio smiles again.
Miz Brown: You found a different use for your hands?
Pistachio's eyes twinkle with genuine amusement and he laughs.
Pistachio: Exactly so!
Lilac brings in the refreshments and sets the silver plated tray on the lace table cloth, within the Colonel's easy reach. She pours a cup for Miz Brown and hands it to her, then pours for Pistachio and gestures an invitation to the goodies.
Pistachio picks up a goodie, eats it in two bites, and picks up his tea and sips on it.
Lilac pours a cup for herself and retreats to a comfortable chair at a little distance.
Miz Brown: So, Colonel, what else are you planning to do with your retirement?
Pistachio is still a bit embarrassed by this question, though heaven knows he's heard it before.
Pistachio: Well, hrm, I hardly know myself yet. It's been a big change, yes indeed, a big change, and I think I have to get used to it before I can say for sure what I might be doing.
Pistachio's eyes flash.
Pistachio: Do you have any particular suggestions, Miz Brown?
Miz Brown: How could I, when I hardly know you? On the other hand, if you wish to get more broadly acquainted with your neighbors, there are various events and charities that are always crying for volunteers.
Pistachio: I do indeed wish to, and that sounds like an excellent idea. Can you mention some particular events that are particularly, well, hard-hit at present?
Miz Brown gives the question all due consideration.
Miz Brown: There are several that might interest you, depending on your goals. If you prefer the company of gentlemen your own age, there is a group of them who maintain the plantings in some of the parks. I believe they also plan potlucks and go on several fishing trips each summer. If you want to get involved with the younger families, there is a chronic shortage of playground supervisors at the school.
Pistachio: Gardening has some appeal, yes, though I can't call myself much of a cook, no, not much at all. Indeed, I've been thinking that I ought to hire someone for that purpose. As for supervising the playground, I'll give that some thought, yes.
Miz Brown: Lilac, wasn't your cousin Peony looking for a way to earn a bit of extra money, so her girls could have something fancy to wear at the spring dance?
Lilac: Yes, she is. She's a good seamstress, too, if you need someone to do your mending, Colonel.
Miz Brown: There. I'll have Peony drop by your house tomorrow, if that's convenient?
Pistachio: Well, perhaps that would be helpful. My years in the service gave me more than a little experience with plain mending, though. And I do manage to keep the house orderly, though a bit of assistance now and then certainly wouldn't come amiss, particularly on those days when -- Well. I'm sure I needn't tell you that some days are better than others, my dear Miz Brown. And yes, that would be entirely convenient.
Lilac: Rose, I was wondering if the Colonel might want to address a school assembly about his experiences in the war, and how important Unity is for all of us.
Miz Brown: Indeed. It would be most instructive.
Lilac: Colonel, some of those poor children don't realize that they have an alternative these days.
Pistachio's eyes light up.
Pistachio: An excellent idea, excellent! I would need some time to prepare, of course, and then someone to look over it, to make sure I wasn't going over the children's heads, as it were, but I'd be delighted to make such a speech, delighted. And perhaps on one of the days when Hajene Bibi has another channel here, she could make a presentation as well? Do you think that might be arranged?
Miz Brown: Well, I'm a little reluctant to interfere with Bibi's time off, especially when she has visitors, but perhaps something might be arranged.
Lilac looks to Miz Brown. They have to walk a fine line with the school, despite the principal being in their church, since so many parents regard Unity as heresy.
Miz Brown: A presentation by yourself, on the other hand, could hardly be viewed by even the most reactionary as anything but educational and patriotic.
Lilac is pleased that Rose likes her idea.
Pistachio: I like the way you think, Miz Brown.
Miz Brown twinkles at Pistachio.
Miz Brown: If you consult with Bibi ahead of time, I'm sure she'd provide you with some background information that probably wasn't included in your briefings, that first Faith Day. At least, I've been told that the military tends to operate on a "must know" basis, even when there is no particular requirement for secrecy?
Pistachio: Briefings? Ha. We had no briefings. We were rounded up, told to form a line, roll up our sleeves, and hold still. That was the whole story in those days. And a nasty wet rainy day it was too.
Miz Brown: Not at all the same as a nice comfortable couch in a quiet room.
Pistachio: By no means and not at all.
Miz Brown: I'm always surprised there wasn't more active rebellion among the troops.
Pistachio: Such a rebellion, my dear lady, would have to have been well-coordinated by those willing to take risks. Soldiers take risks, but only in extreme circumstances against their own command.
Miz Brown: So most of you accepted that donation, while possibly unpleasant, was not a danger to your lives?
Pistachio: Or let us say no worse a danger than anything else.
Miz Brown: It appears, then, that you and your fellow soldiers had already made considerable strides towards accepting Simes as allies?
Pistachio: Hardly. No, those of us who knew what was going on, which were few, were most concerned about the supply situation. Not to put too fine a point on it, we were hungry, and an army, as the Ancients used to say, marches on its stomach.
Miz Brown: Well, an army of Gen soldiers, anyway. The Simes had a different priority, I expect.
Pistachio: Well, different in detail, yes, but not in essence. They needed their "food", and we needed ours. A sensible trade. Still, overall, people had different reactions: in my case, I became a Unity idealist, and indeed I still am, though perhaps a bit more realistic idealist these days.
Miz Brown: I've never known people to be sensible, when their prejudices were involved.
Pistachio: Always excepting the present company, eh?
Miz Brown chuckles.
Miz Brown: Well, in our case, they're not prejudices, they're sensible conclusions. Right?
Pistachio makes a thumbs-up sign.
Pistachio: Right! But tell me, Miz Brown, I know that you have the support of your descendants and a good many other people here, still I'd appreciate if you'd let me know who might be, might be on the other side, as it were. Not that I intend to hide my opinions, oh no, but still, no point on stepping on people's toes unnecessarily, eh?
Miz Brown laughs.
Miz Brown: Well, Lilac, that sounds to me like an invitation to gossip shamelessly about the neighbors. What do you think?
Lilac: Well, I suppose we could warn him about Dr. Tavis and Mr. Vested the lawyer, although I have hopes he'll eventually come around, with his daughters working on him.
Miz Brown: Indeed. They're both reasonable men, in their fashion. At least some of the time. Let me tell you about the time...
Miz Brown settles back to enjoy the novelty of a new audience.