Walter and Melisande strolled through the Blue City, a metropolis wrought from sapphire bricks of ice. Melisande had her arm through Walter's as they went.
"Let's stop for an iced cream," Walter said, pulling her through an arched doorway of packed snow.
Customers packed the shop. Walter dragged her through the crowd to the counter.
"I would like two chocolate sundaes, please," Walter said, pulling out his wallet.
The clerk grinned. "Put that away."
"Oh, why, thank you!" Walter said to the clerk.
"Don't thank me - I ain't giving it away. You can thank Professor Cookshill over there. He's been buying 'em for everybody in the shop! Business has been great! All I had to do was buy one of his robotic men!" the clerk said. Walter and Melisande noticed the clerk's assistant, only a boy, mechanically assembling two chocolate sundaes with engineered precision. Walter also noticed Professor Cookshill in the corner, holding court and passing out handbills.
"Arthur-" Melisande said, starting towards the robotic boy.
"Hey, hands away from my assistant!" cried the clerk.
The boy thrust the sundaes towards Walter, who took them both as Melisande spoke to the robot.
"Arthur, don't you remember me? I taught you to read. We used to go for lovely walks down by the creek."
The robot Arthur stared at Melisande, a blank look upon his face.
"Oh, Arthur, what's wrong? Why won't you talk to me? What have I done?" Melisande pleaded.
A trio of World's-Fair-goers had queued up behind Walter and Melisande, and they were making very polite noises about wanting some iced cream very badly.
"Please, I have other customers waiting!" the clerk said. "He's a robot, he doesn't understand you!"
As Walter led Melisande away, she cried out at the robot.
"He used to! He used to speak and think and learn!"
The clerk ignored her.
Walter led Melisande outside of the shop and they sat down upon a bench, heated with electrical coils. They sat under the bench like fat, red jungle pythons waiting to strike. Walter stroked Melisande's hair while she sobbed, without tears, into his coat.
"I don't understand why you're upset," Walter said. He stared through the foggy glass of the iced cream shop at his rival. He had the sense of two very powerful emotions, love and hate, with a vague sense of connection between them. Melisande and Professor Cookshill. They had nothing to do with each other. But he couldn't shake his intuition, whispering in his ear.
"Professor Cookshill has done something horrible to Arthur, I know it. That isn't the boy that I left behind after the Professor threw me off of his sledge-" she caught herself in mid-sentence.
Aha, said Walter's intuition. There you are. I'm sorry, old chap, but you're going to have to calm down because there's an artery in here that is bulging quite badly.
"Pardon me?" Walter asked.
"Oh, nothing..." Melisande said.
Walter thought back to the previous day, when Melisande had alluded to him wanting to throw her away.
"Did Professor Cookshill create you?" Walter choked out from his tightening throat.
"Oh, Walter, please," Melisande said.
And that means that she probably...Walter's conscious reached deep down inside and choked his intuition for making him think that.
"I assume that you and him were engaged to be married?" Walter asked, as forthright as he could manage.
"Not engaged, no, but we did have-"
Walter held up his hand to silence her. He stood up and fought the bile rising in his throat. He'd never imagined himself to be the sort who would engage in violence, but Walter planned to march into the iced cream shop straight away and confront that brigand. Wicky! he would cry, and begin his usual torrent of insults would begin before they would be staunched with a solid fist to the nose and a challenge! Of a duel! As for Melisande...
"I don't know, my dear, if we can continue in our acquaintenance."
"That's why I didn't want to tell you! I knew from my first moments of consciousness that men could be so damned capricious and cruel!" Melisande shouted.
Walter's sense of embarassment forced him to sit back down.
"Melisande, please, not so loud..."
"And yet you can be as loud as you'd like, as forward as you'd like, even to the point of going off to do some damn fool thing while the same woman to whom you professed your love last night sits here in torment! And you expect me to be quiet about it! Just like Professor Cookshill!"
The comparison splashed cold water onto Walter's plans. His mouth flapped open and shut like a particularly out-of-breath fish.
Her skin was flushed and her arms were crossed.
"My dear," he said, more quietly this time, "I would like to offer my apologies for my brashness. You must feel as acutely I do the furies of passion."
"Wicky!" roared a familiar voice at the very worst possible moment.
Melisande slapped Walter across the face and bustled away down the straight.
"I'm glad to see that I have not interrupted anything! That young lady took care of it for me!" Professor Cookshill said. "I wished that I had her acquaintenance so that I could make sure to congratulate her on what a good choice she just made!" He slapped Walter on the back, who kept his mouth shut in a thin line.
"I didn't see you at Amundsen's speech, nor the reception afterwards. I suppose that you couldn't get an invitation, but that's alright. I'd like to see you tonight at my exhibition!" Professor Cookshill said. He thrust a handbill into Walter's hands.
"Ciao!" Professor Cookshill said, wandering off down the street and pressing handbills onto pedestrians.
Walter glanced down at the handbill.
7PM HALL DE GLACE
Melisande slid onto the bench next to him and stroked his cheek.
"I am sorry for that, but I did not want him to see me," she said. She glanced down at the handbill, and then back up at Walter's dejected face.
"Do not worry, Walter. We shall seek our revenge publically, for the very worst thing for a man like that is to be found out. Come, we must get ready for the exhibition!"
To be continued...
The Moral: go eat ice cream, but serve it yourself.