SHADOW PUZZLE: THE LORD AND HIS SERVANT
Dreamed 1984/5/23 by Chris Wayan
An English lord, and his only servant. They've been together decades. The Lord's a refined, delicate man; the servant, energetic and scruffy, with a dark devious feel.
The servant's plotting to dump his wife after twenty years or more. The Lord finds this disgraceful: "Just because you've hit middle age and you've fallen for someone younger is no excuse." The servant denies everything, even though he could refute his Lord's argument, for the whole village knows it's no midlife crisis: he loathes his wife and she hates him, and they have for years.
The lord and servant's tradition is to compete, each evening, in a game of their own devising. They're slowly filling in an intricate puzzle. Each loose piece fit into the whole wins a point. They play on a round glass table. Below it, at thigh-height, is a shallow wide black bowl, full of loose pieces. Each man reaches under the table to draw a piece, or a mass of them if he's secretly linked a few. The element of surprise can be useful, and since the table's glass, some assembly's possible in the chaos-bowl, though it's not considered good form to look when actually drawing pieces.
But the servant cheats. From the Lord's seat, the candelabra reflects on the table-face; he sees the puzzle plainly, but it floats on a sea of inverted candle-light; the bowl's a dim shadow to him. But if the servant slouches, he can make the Lord's tall, gaunt silhouette BLOCK the reflected glare. In his Lord's shadow, he can see the pieces in the chaos beneath! And with this clandestine vision, he's slowly assembled easy groups, like faces, and hid them near his knees. When he falls behind, out comes a face-cluster!
As the picture slowly forms--and curiously echoes the slumping servant looking at his gaunt lord's looming head, for it seems to be the view of someone in a coffin, dying or dead: faces loom, seen from beneath, in a ring, like vultures hovering. As this picture slowly forms, the lord keeps probing verbally. The servant, his attention split between what's above and under the table, finally slips, and the lord has proof his servant's plotting to frame his wife and cast her out with nothing. At that moment, as the servant pales, realizing what he's let slip... the lord blindly gropes under the table over to the servant's side of the bowl and picks one piece from the middle of a secretly assembled face. It was the servant's next move! The lord places the piece on the table; it's a human eye. And in the new hole in that sunken face, by maddest coincidence--surely it can be no more--the servant sees the Lord's own eye, reflected, peering up keenly at him, seemingly through the hole. A comical eye, and bright.
So the servant concedes that round: he confesses "Yes, I loathe my wife, I've always loathed my wife, I plan to divorce her and give her as little as possible, and marry another. And I've lied about it so you won't punish or fire me for what YOU see as a betrayal of my marriage vows."
But the servant has more under the table than mere faces floating on chaos. He has a scrap of truth as painful as a lost eye. The Lord thinks no one knows it. The Lord is wrong. His servant says "Don't you find your stance a bit hypocritical, when YOU were not widowed, as you let out, but divorced, yourself? I imagine young Lady X---, who you've been courting so assiduously, would find it troubling."
And amazingly, the Lord's at a loss. He seems never to have thought of this as hypocrisy! He, an aristocrat, merits happiness by right of blood--and his servant deserves mere duty. Can he truly be that simple, that vain?
Even the servant expected his old opponent to rationalize, at least--to have seen the parallel, thought it through, concocted excuses...
But the servant has won so abruptly he's a bit shocked. And uneasy: to find such a moral hole in a man he knew so well! As unsettling as a face with a missing eye.
And a piece of the puzzle IS missing:
How could that sharp-eyed old man be so blind?
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