Grand Duke Irwin-Amadeus II: (Aggrieved look on face as he searches through portmanteau on seat next to him) I say, Hives? It's frigid! Have you packed my warm wig?
Hives (Nose buried in copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason): Do you mean the particularly tall, curly one with the marked blue-ish tint?
IA: (Looking relieved) Yes! That's the one. Where is it?
H: (Casually turns a page and speaks without looking up) I'm afraid, Sir, that it is with your alpine hat in the top of your armoire. I must have neglected to pack both items.
IA: Blast! Now, I'll need to have my real hair dressed in time for supper this evening.
H: It would appear so, Sir. I'll speak to the head butler or housekeeper about the matter once we arrive at your aunt's and the carriage is unloaded. May I offer you a brandy, Sir?
IA: (Resigned and staring at winter landscape through coach window) Yes, Hives, please. That would be just the thing. And pour one for yourself.
H: (Closes book, opens small portable bar to his left, removes a metal flask, and prepares two pewter cups of brandy). There you are, Sir (hands cup to IA).
IA: Thank you, Hives, thank you (takes sip, smacks lips, and looks thoughtful). Dreadful business all that recent skirmishing along the frontier with Princess Antonia's Electorate of Zichenau. I thought all of that unpleasantness had finished last summer after the Campaign of Theodorstal as the historians are now calling it.
H: (Taking sip from his own cup) Indeed, Sir.
IA: Still, I suppose if we've done it once, we can do it again. Give those Zichenauers another damn good thrashing and all that, what?
H: Precisely, Sir. I'm quite sure that General von Tschatschke and his officers have the matter well in hand.
IA: (Changing topics abruptly) Yes, well. . . What does the guestlist look like for the weekend then, Hives?
H: I wouldn't hazard a guess, Sir. Your aunt did not discuss that particular matter with me in her correspondence, though she did mention something about a cousin of the female persuasion visiting from Sweden along with her ladies in waiting.
IA: (Crestfallen) Oh, dash it all! She must mean the Lady Leonora Christina von Grandin! We used to call her Leonora the Giant as children, Hives. As tall and solid as that old oak in the palace courtyard, she was, and then some. About as much personality too (Shakes head and then cradles it in free hand). Well, that's it, Hives. That's it. My days of free and easy living are numbered. The Lady Leonora Christina probably wants to become engaged, or something like that. Oh, Hives, why didn't I see it coming?
H: (Discreetly hides a smirk with his gloved hand) It would appear, Sir, that your current fascination with fashionable gentlemen's headwear has clouded your otherwise highly perceptive vision into such matters. There are those about the palace and among your ministers who might suggest the the Grand Duke has become rather myopic with the approach of Christmas and its associated festivities.
IA: Yes, well thank you, Hives. Thank you. Your own penetrating insight and honesty are always appreciated. But I'll thank you not to enjoy yourself at my expense.
H: (Regaining placid composure) Very good, Sir.
IA: (Looking worried again) I've got to think fast, Hives. How will I excuse myself from the weekend without raising Aunt Agatha's eyebrows, assuming the Lady Leonora Christina pitches woo?
H: (Rationally) Perhaps, Sir, we can manage to extricate ourselves quietly from the situation should it head in that direction.
IA: (Brightening) Yes, Hives? What is it?
H: Well, Sir, perhaps I might arrange for an urgent message to arrive from the palace, calling for your immediate return, that is, should the weekend take an unfortunate turn toward a discussion of an understanding between yourself and the Lady Leonora Christina von Grandin.
IA: (Rubs hands together conspiratorially) Yes, Hives! That's it! An excuse. That sounds like just the sort of thing we need. Blast, I was looking forward to a weekend of hunting in the fresh snow with feasting and dancing in the evenings though. The pheasant and wild boar on Aunt Agatha's estate surpass all others in texture and flavor. I can almost taste them now!
H: (Cautiously) There is, culinary delights notwithstanding, your continued status as a bachelor to consider, Sir.
IA: (Gazing stoically into space) Yes, Hives, yes. I suppose you're right. And the future of the Grand Duchy as well. A wife and family would certainly distract one's attention from the more pressing matters of state, I'll grant you.
H: Without a doubt, Sir. More brandy?
IA: (Holds out empty cup) Why, yes, Hives. Please. A drop or two of the stuff is good for virtually anything that ails you. Enough of these before we arrive, and I'll hardly notice that old Swedish oaktree of a cousin.
H: Indeed, Sir.