Continuing our series of “Mallory reads a lot of old-timey novels while desperately searching for context clues,” I’ve found myself unable to stop muttering the phrase Gentlemen! My ward! to myself over the last couple of days. You know John Mulaney’s bit about quicksand?He talks about how it came sort of a surprise to him, as an adult, that quicksand didn’t ever really end up becoming a thing he needed to watch out for, given “if you watch cartoons as a child, quicksand is like, the third biggest thing you have to worry about, behind real sticks of dynamite and giant anvils falling on you from the sky.” That’s how I think about wards, I think; ditto breach of promise suits and college widows. “Things I spent a ton of time thinking about as a child, without ever really understanding what they were, and have never even once encountered as an adult.”
Like: WARDS. What are they? I know they are young people between the ages of, I don’t know, roughly fourteen to twenty-one (IS THAT THE AGE OF MAJORITY? PEOPLE IN BOOKS WERE ALWAYS “COMING OF AGE” BUT NO ONE EVER BOTHERED TO EXPLAIN WHAT “THE AGE” WAS, I THINK MAYBE FOR BOYOS IT WAS 21 AND FOR GALS IT WAS LATER, OR LIKE SOMETIMES YOU COULD COME OF AGE W/R/T MARRIAGE BUT NOT BE OF AGE W/R/T YOUR INHERITANCE, SO YOUR SEX “OF AGE” AND YOUR MONEY “OF AGE” MIGHT BE DIFFERENT), who maybe have parents but also maybe don’t.
What I Am Pretty Sure Is True About Wards Based Solely On What I Have Read In Books And Without Looking Anything Else Up
Literally anyone can be a guardian, you just have to be mentioned in somebody’s dead parents’ will (or honestly maybe just show up and ask? IDK)
You’re sort of their dad but only for a little while
If someone is your ward you have to tell them what tailors to go to and whenever you go to a club or a dance you have to say “Gentlemen, my ward.” Maybe you can say “Gentlemen, may I present my ward,” but that’s about as much room for interpretation as you’re going to get with that line.
You don’t have to live together necessarily but they can periodically show up and take over your whole house
You are allowed to do stuff like “talk in a hallway” with your ward without everyone being like “Oh, you have been compromised, m’gal, on account of the hallway talking, better get married straightaway,” which leads us to
You are mostly not supposed to marry your ward but it seems like that is the ONLY THING THAT EVER HAPPENS WITH WARDS?
Like the timeline goes ward—>ward—>ward—>I CAN NEVER MARRY YOU, YOU’RE MY WARD—>the wardship is over—>now we are married, me and my former ward
Mostly, though, you have to say the sentence “Gentlemen, my ward” a lot, and I think that’s wonderful. You can say it with an air of emergency, as if you’re interrupting a business deal:
“Gentlemen! My ward!”
You can say it in a tone of stern reproof, as if to remind these gentlemen that they are in the presence of your damn ward and had better watch themselves.
“Gentlemen, my ward.”
You can say it with pure smugness. I have a ward and you don’t have shit! Fuck off, other gentlemen, you wardless jerks!! My ward can kick your ass at whist!
You can say this while striding jackbootedly into some northern mansion to uncover the dastardly gentlemen who stole your ward. The game is up, gentlemen!! I’m here for my ward! I’m gonna give you the chance to turn my ward over without a fight, but hoo boy, if you don’t do it, I’m gonna fight you real bad with swords!
“Gentlemen. My ward.”
It’s a heck of a template of a sentence, is what I’m trying to say. I don’t know, you know? I don’t know what anything is. Last night I was finishing The Masqueraders and I had to put the book down and whisper, “Like honestly, the fuck is a heath” to my empty room. I have read, conservatively, 400 books prominently featuring heaths and I don’t know what one is even a little bit. And that doesn’t mean I want anyone to tell me what a heath is, either. I don’t have room to learn anything else, I finished a while back and now if you want to jam a new fact in my head you have to push something else out, so the name of the current game is just Maintaining Equilibrium.
On the plus side, reading a lot of old-timey novels has reminded me how much I enjoy coming up with fake etymologies for archaic-sounding curses. I’ve always felt mildly resentful of those, like, Explain-y Shakespeare books you get in high school with a glossary at the front that tries to convince you every single swear word English people used to say was a different reference to one of God’s body parts. “Oh yes,” I can only imagine the editor of such nonsense compendiums trying to say without giggling, “grown men and women definitely said things like ‘God’s teeth,’ when they were angry, that was for sure a thing people said.”
Don’t try to tell me what these words mean, I know exactly what they mean, intuitively, just like I know what a heath is on some deep internal level, despite being unable to describe it.
Zounds God’s zounds
Strewth The truth with an S in front of it
Ods bodkins What an odd bodkin
Gadzooks God’s zooks
This is true, and you know it. Here I leave you – gentlemen, my ward.