A wise man once said, "The only source of knowledge is experience."
Cozen Hellebore did not know this man and, frankly, probably would have had very little to do with him if she did. She had traveled from a bleak orphanage, to an even bleaker finishing school, to Madame Tilliwig's (the bleakest), and finally found herself a contestant/soldier on Improbable Island, without even a passing "how do you do" to experience.
But she had knowledge. Vast and epic quantities of the most useless, meandering, uninformed and blatantly incorrect knowledge ever learned by man or god. And that's something, I suppose.
It was armed with this "knowledge" that she braved the steps of the NewHome Museum to speak with Mister Stern, the museum's curator, over tea and cake-she politely declined the scones-and to plead her case to him. It was not their first meeting (in fact, it was their third) and each time, Cozen Hellebore's heart was sent into such dizzying palpitations at meeting the aging academic that she found herself blushing and stammering into her teacup. This time was different, however.
It simply had to be.
"Mister Stern," she said, affecting what she hoped was the airs of a learned scholar, and set down her teacup in its saucer with a muffled clink. "I'm quite glad you allowed me this meeting."
Mister Stern, ever the gentleman, did not mention that she didn't give him much of a say in the matter. Nor did he mention that she had hounded his every footfall through the museum, nattering on, until he finally interrupted with a long sigh and a "Miss Hellebore, would you like to join me for tea?" Instead, he smiled over his cup to her and asked, "And what was it you wanted to speak with me about?"
"The position," she said, laconically.
"The position?" Mister Stern repeated. He went through his mind at the different possibilities. Perhaps she meant the position of the mannequins in the Diversity Hall, or perhaps the position of the Museum itself in the NewHome square.
Sensing his confusion, Cozen prompted him, "The position at the museum? The vacancy? The employment opportunity?"
He was about to correct her. Inform her that there was no open position at the museum. That there was, in fact, only his position. But then, in a flash, he was remembering a piece of their previous conversation that hadn't struck him entirely on its first pass through in his mind.
He ran his hand over the coin, feeling the grooves made by the head on both the front and the back. He contemplated flipping it again, just to see what might happen, what improbability might occur, but sighed softly and set it down on a soft bit of red velvet, the perfect place for such treasures. It was then that he realized the girl who had brought him the coin was still talking to him. And talking. And talking. He watched the hat that was perched atop her head as it swayed and wobbled when she spoke and thought the hat might at any moment decide it couldn't take being so very ugly anymore and dive off of its precarious position bent on ending its own pitiful life.
He shook his head, smiling politely, and tried to remember what she talking about. "Oh," he said. "If you're looking for a job on The Island-other than contestant that is-perhaps you should write out your qualifications, a curriculum vitae as it were." He waved a hand dismissively, "Normally, I would say type it out, but I doubt anyone would mind such formalities around here."
She smiled brightly at that and thanked him for his time. He was just reaching into the drawer (to provide her pay for the coin) as he asked, "Where is it that you're looking to apply again?"
But she was already gone.
And now she was back. And he felt a sinking dread in the pit of his stomach where his ulcers were usually kept.
"Umm," he began and decided that, as an opening salvo, it lacked certainty. "Miss Heliotrope-"
"Hellebore," she corrected.
"Yes, of course. Miss Hellebore, I believe you might be laboring under a. . . misconception."
She smiled at him gently and had a mad sort of twinkle in her eye, "I believed that exact same thing mere hours ago. It's this whole curriculum vitae business. It takes an extra amount of conception, as it were, or else you end up with a jar full of profanity and who wants that?"
Unsure what to say to such a statement, the curator just blinked at the young woman slowly, once and then twice, before finally settling upon, "Indeed."
"So," she continued, with ample relish. "I'm quite pleased to present you with this."
What this was, wasn't readily apparent to Mister Stern. There was a large poster board, covered in glitter. Drawn onto the poster board, in pencil, was a rather decent portrait of the young woman sitting before him. Various arrows assaulted the picture, each attached to an excited description: at the glasses on her nose, one arrow stated "Glasses! A necessity of any academic!"; at the boots, another proclaimed "Quiet boots! Perfect for the echoing marble halls!"; and so on. At the bottom was the signature: Micha, Chef and Epic Drinker.
Attached to the poster board (by a piece of chewing game) was a rather ragged paper titled Corrikulumme Veetay. On whole, the spelling was so butchered, Mister Stern was uncertain if even Joe's Diner would be willing to purchase the meat from the letters. Still he was able to make out the following:
Miss Cozen Hellebore.
Of No Specific Address.
To Be Contacted At Your Leisure.
Educated in Missus Buttonmarch's Finishing School for Unfortunate Young Girls.
Experienced from Madame Tilliwig's Museum of Oddities, Flim Flam, Really Interesting Things and Generally What Have You.
References include Madame Tilliwig of Gwyther Street and Missus Buttonmarch of Pembferd Lane.
Has ample knowledge in cryptozoology and primitive anthropological studies involving farcical regions. Can also fairly well take care of a goldfish. Plays the dulcimer.
And then, in very small letters at the bottom, Mister Stern managed to make out: Written by Sloth. . . I'm a writer!
Mister Havelock Stern set down the curriculum vitae. He pursed his lips and looked out the office window into the jungles beyond. He watched a flock of gulls fly over the treetops, outlined by the florid rays of the setting sun. . .
And he dismayed for society as a whole.
For Mr Stern, the average day begins at eight am with a cup of tea in his sparse, one room flat (the converted attic space above the NewHome Museum.) After tea, he washes, dresses, and keeps up with his correspondences and, at nine twenty-five precisely, he heads downstairs and opens the museum.
From nine thirty until eleven, he meticulously travels from room to room of the museum to check all the exhibits. Often times the exhibits have moved in the evening and he often finds new notes on the exhibit plaques, but this doesn't concern him. Curating is an inexact science after all, doubly so on Improbably Island. He fixes what he can and leaves well enough alone what he can't.
At eleven, he sits at his desk in the small lobby and does whatever work needs doing, mainly requisition requests, donation requests, and requests that the many-limbed thing that has taken up residence in the basement either please leave or begin paying rent.
At one in the afternoon, he takes lunch. And after lunch, he yet again wanders the halls and yet again rights any mischief that the exhibits might have been up to. At four, he takes his afternoon tea.
Every now and then, someone will wander into the museum. Usually they aren't visitors in the strongest sense of the word, seeing that they are mostly bewildered, lost contestants, new to the island. He will show them around, point out several fascinating facts, and send them on their way, a little more bewildered and a little more lost.
At six thirty, he will close the museum. Occasionally, he will catch the seven o'clock train from NewHome to Improbable Central and take his dinner and a drink at the Prancing Spiderkitty. More often than that, however, he will simply head back upstairs, take dinner alone, and read in his bed until he falls asleep.
This is an average day for Mr Stern.
Today, however, was anything but average. After he finished his lunch (a piece of ham rationed from the Council Office and boiled, soggy greens), he went to make his second walk around the museum and found someone was already doing so.
Standing on a chair (he realized quickly that it was his own chair which normally resides at his desk), was a young woman with disheveled brown hair, a walking dress which had seen better days, and a familiarly abominable hat. She was on her tiptoes, a feather duster in hand, trying to reach a cobweb that had spent the last three years unmolested behind the zombie mannequin in the Diversity Hall. At her feet, leaning again Mr Stern's chair, were a parasol and battered picnic basket. Mr Stern sighed. It was going to be one of those days.
"Miss Hellebore," he called out politely. So consumed by her task, the girl became startled by the sound of his voice and the feather duster, which she had just been waving about with zeal, became dislodged, flying across the room to land against the robot mannequin with a disquieting clang.
"Mr Stern," she squeaked, scrambling down from the chair and hurrying to retrieve her lost duster. "So good to see you here."
"Here? Miss Hellebore, this is my museum. Where else would I be?"
"Yes, well," she started, but he continued over her.
"And what precisely are you doing?"
"Well, you see-"
"We've already conversed about a possible position, and I simply just do not have a place for you right now."
She took a deep breath and he could tell, by the disturbing angle of her chin, that she was prepared to stubbornly press on. He mentally crossed his afternoon tea off his possible schedule. "Mr Stern, I know we've already discussed my employ at the museum, but I'm determined to make you reconsider." She took up her parasol and picnic basket, holding them a little worryingly like weapons, and marched into the main lobby.
He followed, desolately.
"While you may have the administration portion of the task well in hand, you clearly need someone to help with the . . . front end."
"The front end?" he asked, snatching a set of historical documents off of his desk before she dropped her picnic basket heavily upon them.
"Yes, yes," she continued. She began to pace. Oh dear, he thought, pacing. "The cleaning, the organizing, the touring, the advertisement! You know there is no advertisement for this museum? None! Not even a single note tacked on the bulletin board at the front gates."
Mr Stern wasn't terribly interested in an increased amount of visitors, but unwilling to say so, he went to his trusty response, "I can't pay you."
"I'll work for free."
"There are no benefits."
"That is still better than killing improbable monsters in the jungle."
"The Watcher isn't exactly inclined to let anyone retire, is she?"
He frowned at the hard-headed woman in front of him, who even now was furiously adjusting her glasses and glaring stonily at him. He went to sit at his desk, belatedly realized that his chair was still in the other room, and ended up sprawled on the ground of the lobby. Cozen Hellebore hurried over, all a-fluster and waving hands and tried to help him up.
"Miss Hellebore!" he continued, once he was upright. "You are new to the island, a recent arrival, with no real education, no real experience, and no one to vouch for your moral character. You can't possibly expect me to give you a job."
But instead of looking cast out and downtrodden as he had hoped, these words just made her more cheerful and determined. "But I do!" she stated proudly.
She began ticking off items on her fingers. "I was educated at a fine establishment. Missus Buttonmarch's Finishing School. I was taught penmanship, Latin, etiquette and several other things besides. I've worked for the past four years at Madame Tilliwig's Museum. I studied cryptids and several indigenous tribes and a lot about history of the occult. In fact, all of my experience is with museums."
"Yes, but," he said, with confidence. "Your-"
"My moral character," she said, digging in her picnic basket. "Yes. I spoke with the man at the Council Office and he suggested I take the initiative on that front."
She thrust a stack of papers at him. Most were ragged and even-he despaired to note-torn from books. "Wh-what?"
"My letters of reference," Cozen Hellebore stated primly and sat down in the chair across from the desk (why she couldn't have taken that one to dust, he'd never know). "I think they fully sum up my moral character."
The first is an uneven messy scrawl against an otherwise unblemished piece of parchment:
Miss Hellebore, the new girl? She's kind and hardworking. She's sweet. Eager to please, I think. She's very valuable to the clan, I think. That should be good, right?
Signed, Bob Zarido Staffleton (as documented by Captain Tom, because Bob's got bad handwriting.)
The next is written on the back of a bar napkin:
To Mr. Stern (And Whomever Else it May Concern).
Please accept this note as glowing affirmation of Miss Cozen Hellebore's suitability for a position in New Home Museum.
Of all the many ways in which Cozen's hiring would benefit the institution, I will only address one - Miss Hellebore is in her own person a museological phenomenon. She lives and breathes the very air of anachronism. Her desire to convey, nay, carry the past into the present overrides all other didactic concerns.
Please consider the serious advantage Miss Hellebore will bring to New Home Museum as a dedicated employee thereof.
With Utmost Respect and Sincerity.
Rookie Ahab, A.A.R., M.F.A.
This one is written on a sheet of ruled paper, with all the stubbly bits still attached to the side:
Dear Mister Stern
Miss Cozen says she would like to work in your museum with you so I think you should hire her. You like to have tea with people and she likes tea too and she is smart and funny and has experience too. If you don't she will open another museum and I will go there instead
The following letter of reference is written on a bit of lined paper in tiny, cramped, simple copperplate:
Dear Mister Havelock Stern,
Please forgive the horrible condition that this paper is in. I got it from Dave. I am writing to you to suggest that you hire Miss Cozen Hellebore to work at your Museum in NewHome. She's probably qualified in some way or another, since she keeps going on about how she used to work in a museum before she came to this island. However, I've got a much more compelling argument to pose to you.
Since her arrival, I have gotten to know Miss Hellebore fairly well, I think. About her character, I can tell you this: not only is she incredibly stubborn, but she's also a complete madwoman. Therefore, the more you reject her, the more she will return to bother you, begging for a job. I think it'd be best if you just got it all over with and hired her sooner rather than later.
She's not going away. Not ever.
With Deepest Condolences,
It is scrawled, but carefully, on the back of a salvaged title page from a novel titled, "The Ruthless Magnate's Virgin Mistress". Apparently, it is meant to be a letter of reference:
I am writing this letter on behalf of Miss Cozen Hellebore. I have spent time observing her behaviour on a given task while in my nominal employ, and can vouch that she performed up to standards. I highly recommend Cozen Hellebore for any position at the Museum, as she demonstrated tenacity and an unflappable personality when confronted with potentially embarrassing situations. She also knows many details about fancy table-settings and specific silverware, which I believe is a bonus in any situation.
Micha Culatello (BPS, AOS)
The last is just a series of doodles on a sheet of ruled paper. There is a dinosaur and next to it a note that states "She's an accomplished Paleontologist." And beneath the dinosaur is a shark with holding a machine gun which tells us "She can hold her breath a very long time." A helicopter on fire states, "She's a trained helicopter pilot and specialist with explosives!" The last doodle, a rather detailed scribble of a sports car has the note: "This doesn't mean anything. It's just a really cool car."
(That's my Taoist name.)