by Bill Waters
It was a pleasant summer morning in Florence, and Captains Palindrome and Scarborough were taking the Tuscan air. They and many of their fellow cavalry officers had opted to travel a bit while their regiment, the King’s Own Dragoons, was refitting in England and see something more of the world than simply its battlefields.
The pair had just finished strolling among the fruit vendors in the market square when Palindrome sighed.
“Everything all right, Bob?” asked Scarborough.
Palindrome shook his head. “No lemons. No melon.”
Scarborough rolled his eyes as they came to a halt on the cobblestones. “But the oranges are fine, Bob. Perhaps you could content yourself with them.”
With another sigh, Palindrome turned away and walked over to a fountain. Alone for the moment, Scarborough scanned the crowd. “Hi, now, there’s a familiar face. Where have I seen him?” Feeling eyes upon him, the object of Scarborough’s scrutiny returned his gaze and, with a look of recognition, walked over.
“Hopewell Grant, at your service, sir.”
“Not of the Davenport Grants, surely?”
“Yes, the very ones.”
“Of course!” exclaimed Scarborough. “We met last summer at the races!” Grant smiled and nodded. Then, with a casual air, Scarborough added, “Has your lovely sister, Anne, accompanied you?”
It was at this juncture that Palindrome ambled over. “Bob, old man, it’s Hopewell Grant! Mr. Grant, Captain Robert Palindrome.”
Grant stuck out his hand. “Recently retired from duty on the Northwest Frontier — at your service, sir.”
Palindrome shook his hand warmly. “We few!”
“Pardon?” he said, and looked uncertainly at Scarborough.
“Palindrome too has served in the region — the Khyber Pass, to be precise.”
“Ah,” replied Grant. “We few indeed!”
“Hopewell, who are your friends?” All eyes turned to look upon the speaker, who had just walked up with a basket of flowers. In the full bloom of her youth, she wore a flowing green dress and a yellow bonnet that complemented it perfectly — a charming daffodil come to life.
Scarborough deftly slipped the basket from her arm and said, “Please, Miss Grant, allow me.”
“Thank you ever so much, Captain . . . ?”
“Hugh Scarborough. We met at Devon, last summer, where we—”
“And, my dear Anne,” interrupted her brother, “Captain Robert Palindrome, who, like me, has faced the bullets of the fierce Afghan tribesmen on the barren Frontier.”
Palindrome took her hand and looked deeply into her eyes. “Mad am I, madam!”
Grant and Scarborough were both taken aback by that rather obscure salutation, but Anne perceived somewhat better the compliment behind it and blushed. Following up on his obvious success, he added, in perfect French, “Engage le jeu que je le gagne” — begin the game so that I may win.
Miss Grant beamed. Captain Scarborough turned rigid and pale. And Mr. Grant, exercising brotherly concern, immediately took his sister by the elbow and steered her toward a row of waiting carriages.
Calling after her, Palindrome shouted, “Anne, I stay a day at Sienna!”
Twisting in her brother’s firm grip, she called back, “Make it tomorrow, dear Robert, by the cathedral, while the dew is on the roses!” The two cavalrymen watched as the Grants climbed into a landau and clattered off.
“Well!” stormed Scarborough. “You put on quite a show just now, Bob. What has gotten into you?” Palindrome clasped his hands behind his back and looked benignly at the passing throng. “Such rot! You’ve suddenly turned ladies’ man?”
Palindrome tore his mind from the warm thoughts that left him feeling giddy and pleasantly confused and focused his attention on Scarborough instead. Sore was I … ere I saw Eros, he thought. Then, putting on a sour face and tossing his head in the direction of the departed carriage, he said, “Eve damned Eden — mad Eve!”
Scarborough smoothed his mustache, mollified. “That sounds more like the Palindrome *I* know. Come,” he said, stepping out into the flowing crowd, still holding Miss Grant’s basket of flowers. “Let’s find a tavern and share a bottle. The day grows hot.” Trailing behind him a few paces, Palindrome didn’t hear him mutter, “All’s fair in love and war, Bob. I go to Sienna at dawn.”
Nor did Scarborough hear Palindrome, who was planning his own trip to Sienna, say to himself, “Dew on roses or no, *wed*.”
Note: Merriam-Webster defines a palindrome as “a word, verse, or sentence (as “Able was I ere I saw Elba”) or a number (as 1881) that reads the same backward or forward.” (Capitalization and punctuation don’t count.)
Bill Waters is a senior copywriter for Infobase Learning, based in New York City, and lives in Pennington’s Hopewell Grant development with his wonderful wife Nancy and their two amazing cats. The model of their townhouse is The Davenport — hence the character “Hopewell Grant, of the Davenport Grants.”