Bernice Tsibola is waiting for her guest to arrive for tea in the sunny parlor of the Tsibola townhouse. It will be interesting to catch up on things with her old friend Eulalia.
Eulalia Pollovic gets stiffly out of her carriage in front of the Tsibola town mansion, and is reminded of how short-staffed her son's household is when she notices that there are sufficient stable hands, footmen, and other staff to handle her arrival properly.
Eulalia sighs, resolving to take her son's household in hand, once she's got her other tasks in hand. She wouldn't have found it such a daunting task, twenty years ago. She's finding herself limited more and more by the inability to get around comfortably.
Bernice gets up to greet her guest as she's ushered into the parlor.
Bernice: So good to see you again, Eulalia. It's been a long time.
Eulalia: Bernice! You look positively radiant! I swear, you've hardly aged a bit since we were girls together.
Eulalia offers her arms for hug, and her cheek for a kiss.
Bernice returns the hug and air-kisses the cheek.
Bernice: It's all cosmetics, my dear. I'm quite the old lady now, too.
Eulalia: It's an unavoidable fact, alas: the only thing worse than growing old is the alternative.
Bernice is in pretty good shape, touch wood, but her family always ages well. If they don't die of something else first, of course.
Eulalia: I wouldn't mind so much, but I'm finding it harder and harder to walk this winter.
Bernice: All the snow we've been having doesn't help, and it has been terribly cold.
Bernice: Let's sit by the fire and I'll ring for tea.
Eulalia: Thank you, my dear. The carriage was a bit chilly.
Eulalia holds onto Bernice's arm to steady herself as she limps over to the fire.
Bernice observes her friend's halting gait and knows her arthritis must be getting worse. She guides her to a chair that's comfortable but not too difficult to get up from, and takes the opposite seat. She rings a little silver bell, the signal for the servant to fetch freshly made tea from the kitchen.
Eulalia arranges her skirts properly, knowing that her gloves don't do enough to hide her malformed knuckles.
Eulalia: So, Bernice, you must tell me the news. How is your family?
Bernice: Quite well. My niece's son will graduate from law school this spring. He'll be marrying that lovely young Miller girl, the eldest daughter, this coming fall.
Bernice isn't going to mention Ruthven's niece, his sister's daughter.
Eulalia: The eldest?
Eulalia mentally crosses one name off her list of potential daughters-in-law.
Eulalia: How did the middle girl turn out?
Bernice: She's in finishing school now. Such a relief for the parents.
Eulalia: Yes, indeed. I remember how glad I was, when Brenn was safe.
Bernice nods. Childless herself, she can still sympathize.
Eulalia: Tell me, all in all, how is the present social scene in town? Is there a good selection of eligible young ladies in town?
Eulalia knows she's being rather too direct for strict social etiquette, but she doesn't have the stamina for an indirect approach, and friendship can forgive much.
Bernice waves that away.
Bernice: Oh, the usual lot of dewy eyed fawns coming out, and the usual lot of somewhat frost-bitten flowers desperate to marry before it's too late.
Eulalia: Are any of them worth taking a second look at? I'm thinking that Brenn has been neglecting his dynastic duties.
Bernice: Brenn? Good heavens!
Eulalia: It's been years since his wife died, and he hasn't shown any signs of wanting to take the plunge again.
Bernice: Hm. I don't know. What did you have in mind for him?
Bernice doesn't ask how likely the middle-aged Brenn Pollovic is to go along with his mother's plans.
Eulalia: I don't care about appearance so much; beauty is as beauty does. I'm more interested in finding a girl with the intelligence and ambition to take him in hand. He's been drifting, and making bad decisions.
Bernice: But still young enough to bear an heir and a few spares...
Eulalia: Yes. Grandchildren are required.
Bernice's failure to do the like is something that she and Ruthven have come to terms with long since.
Bernice: Well, I suppose one of those frost-bitten flowers would be the best bet. One without too many serious flaws.
Bernice pauses to pour the just-delivered tea for her guest.
Eulalia: Ideally, I'd like to find three or four candidates and then see how they get along with Brenn. I don't want the boy miserable, and then, too, he's a big enough job that it will take a willing girl to accomplish anything worthwhile.
Eulalia picks up her cup -- carefully, so as not to drop it -- and warms her chilled fingers.
Bernice: I'll have to think about it. I haven't been interested in who's on the marriage market for some time. Do you really think you can get Brenn to go along with this plan? He is rather experienced at circumventing your designs.
Eulalia: I think he'll understand the necessity, once he's had a chance to think about it.
Bernice: He claims he's very busy, and I suppose he is, now that he's on several important committees.
Eulalia: That just proves how much he needs a wife; the night I arrived, he was trying to hold a dinner party to get the gentlemen on the Agriculture Committee to agree. I think even Brenn can see how much simpler that sort of thing is, when the wives get together and work out the compromise, then tell their husbands what to do.
Bernice laughs. Ruthven will listen to her opinions, but his actions are his own. They do, however, often coincide with her recommendations.
Bernice: Well, someone to organize his household would be a definite benefit.
Eulalia: Yes. It's a bit of a shambles, despite the butler's best efforts.
Bernice wonders what the commotion upstairs was about just as the guests were leaving.
Bernice: These dinners always go along more smoothly when there's a hostess to see that they do.
Eulalia: It's a bachelor's house, and it shows. Still, a firm hand should set it to rights pretty quickly. I'll do some myself, while I'm here, but I really do want to be back home before the roses bloom.
Bernice: A marriage shouldn't appear too hasty, of course, but if you can set things in train...
Bernice thinks it unlikely that Eulalia can railroad her son into a marriage that will be preferable to bachelorhood.
Eulalia: I don't want to rush Brenn into anything hasty, I just want him to deal with the issue of marriage, instead of avoiding it. Once he accepts that he ought to marry, he'll be quite capable of figuring out which girl he wants.
Bernice: I see. Let's hope so.
Eulalia: I was hoping that you could tell me which families are in town just now, and which of them have girls that meet my requirements. I do want Brenn to meet some very respectable girls... I've been a bit worried at some of the Senatorial goings-on I've heard about, lately.
Bernice: He did put himself in the limelight a few months back with that show in the rotunda.
Bernice: Ruthven was appalled.
Eulalia: So was I. I thought I'd taught Brenn at least a modicum of discretion, but apparently his idealism got in the way of his manners.
Bernice shakes her head.
Bernice: Ruthven told me all about it.
Bernice remembers Ruthven getting incensed about it repeatedly for several weeks,
Bernice: Probably the worst part was Brenn using that Hajene Seruffin.
Eulalia: Hajene Seruffin?
Bernice: That Sime has been a thorn in Ruthven's side ever since he became his opposite in those trade treaty negotiation.
Bernice thinks Seruffin has more of a deleterious effect on Ruthven's blood pressure than any two or three opposition senators combined.
Eulalia: My goodness. Trust Brenn to find the most controversial Sime around.
Bernice: Seruffin's a very clever man. He and Ruthven are all too well matched.
Bernice leans forward.
Bernice: What do you suppose is behind Brenn's interest in Simes these days? It's a new direction for him, isn't it?
Bernice wonders if there was a recent hushed-up event in the Pollovic circle as well as in the Tsibola clan's.
Eulalia: Not really. His father always believed that cooperation with the Tecton was the wave of the future. Admittedly, Brenn seems to have taken his father's philosophy to a more... personal... level than is strictly required.
Bernice: Indeed. One might even say an intimate level.
Bernice shudders delicately.
Bernice: He might have found a female Sime for his grandstanding, at least.
Eulalia: I'm sure he had his reasons. At least the press didn't have him in bed with this Seruffin, and I expect he found some amusement in tweaking poor Ruthven over it, as well.
Bernice: Well, some of the gutter press did have the two of them in bed, but nobody believes that of course.
Eulalia: Of course not. Brenn's tastes have always been perfectly normal, that way.
Bernice: But perhaps not strong enough to incline him to remarry.
Eulalia: Oh, come now, Bernice. What bachelor is ever inclined to marry, on general principles? It takes the right woman to change that attitude.
Bernice: There is that. Well, considering his new interests, perhaps you can find him a nice eligible Sime girl! They are cheap to feed.
Eulalia gives something that starts out a dignified laugh, and degenerates into a giggle.
Eulalia: Oh, can you imagine how your Ruthven would react?
Bernice laughs with her.
Bernice: Indeed. I can just see the way he'd shake his head.
Eulalia: Seriously, Brenn's got to find a woman who can handle the duties of a Senator's wife. He's far too stressed, lately.
Bernice: We had the opportunity to ease into it, as our husbands climbed the ladder. To drop a young girl into the job with an important Senator... well, I think you'd have a lot of training to do, Eulalia.
Eulalia: Oh, I wouldn't drop the girl into the job cold, but if she's worthy of the position, she'll make her way soon enough. And I hope that in the process, she'll curb some of Brenn's excesses.
Bernice: I wish you luck, but that's quite a tall order.
Eulalia: Well, that last is. Although at least he's been doing his Sime-kissing in private, lately.
Eulalia: I'm told he goes to the Sime Center, like the other donors, rather than using the Senate rotunda.
Bernice: And just lines up with all those paupers?
Bernice thinks he could arrange something a bit more in keeping with his class.
Eulalia: He hasn't said, but I expect he's got a more civilized arrangement. A Senator's time is valuable, after all.
Bernice: Civilized... well, I suppose it is by comparison.
Bernice eyes her long-time friend.
Bernice: Eulalia, you aren't thinking of doing the same, are you?
Eulalia's eyes open in ~~ genuine horror ~~.
Eulalia: Of course not, Bernice! I have no reason to want to throw your husband into a tizzy.
Bernice: Good. Have more tea?
Eulalia: Thank you.
Eulalia takes a warming sip.
Eulalia: Come to think of it, any suitable candidates for Brenn's wife had better not melt into a puddle around Simes. That will limit the possibilities, I'm afraid.
Bernice: True. Very true.
Eulalia: But not down to nothing, I hope?
Bernice: One would hope so. Even families that... are using the Sime Centers for their children are pretty discreet about it. Good families, that is. So it may not be impossible.
Eulalia: Good. It's not as if the girl would have to donate selyn herself, after all.
Bernice: One would hope not, but she might not believe that. And of course, there would be a certain degree of pressure, conscious or not.
Eulalia: Well, any girl who's up to the job will have enough backbone to make up her own mind, and stick to it.
Bernice wonders just how much of an incompatible relationship Eulalia is willing to inflict on her son just to get grandchildren.
Eulalia: A good wife provides a second opinion, after all, not just a blind endorsement of her husband's. I thought to hold a ball in a few weeks, and invite some of the more promising candidates.
Bernice: That's a thought. The winter season is off to a good start already.
Eulalia: If nothing else can be accomplished, it will announce that Brenn is available for social events as well as political ones, but I hope for much more.
Bernice: A good thought.
Eulalia: I was hoping that you would be willing to help me draw up the guest list?
Bernice: Of course, my dear. How big an affair did you have in mind?
Eulalia leans forward in her chair.
Eulalia: Well, the ballroom proper can hold fifty, and the dining room can seat almost that many. With a buffet, we could accommodate up to a hundred easily.
Bernice: Hm. That gives us a lot of room to maneuver...