One fine day in Mauritius, Sir Charles the dodo was admiring his estate of four hundred dodos, mulling about the landscape. His youngest daughter, Miss Charlotte, lounged in a patch of sun with her friends, laughing.
Sir Charles was incredibly proud of his little girl – she was the top student at her university for politics and art history – but, as he watched, he realised with a pang of sadness that it was time for Charlotte to grow up. It was her duty to start a family and help continue the dodo race, Charles decided. In fact, he knew the perfect match for her. His name was Duke Stephen of the Volcano District, and he was at least three feet tall, with fine feathers and a strong beak. Yes, Charles thought as he watched Charlotte play, he would do just nicely.
"Darling, this is Duke Stephen. You remember him from your mother's birthday party last year? He complemented you on your outfit."
"Oh yes," Charlotte blushed as the duke bowed to her. "Good evening, sir, how are you today?"
"Spiffing, thank you," Stephen replied, straightening his neck and ruffling out his feathers. It was no secret that Stephen was a hit with the ladies (there were rumours his brothers hated him for it and that a family feud was in the pipeline) and his charms were certainly working on Charlotte now. She could hardly keep her eyes off him!
For his part, the duke seemed to like Charlotte very much, asking questions about her art history degree. When did she graduate? She already had? What was she planning on doing with her future? How delightful, she wanted to travel and improve the state of Mauritius' public services! Was Charlotte to become the second famous politician in the family, after her brother Carlton? What did that have to do with art history? Oh, she had also taken politics.
"Oh, Stephen, I don't know what to say!" Charlotte squealed as she saw the diamond incrusted headdress the duke had presented her. It was a typical engagement gift, given to the bride-to-be as soon as she had accepted her boyfriend's hand in marriage. As they had only been dating for a week, Charlotte had to admire Stephen's courage.
"Well, a yes would be nice." Stephen replied, running a wing through his head feathers. Had he really just asked to spend the rest of his life with this airhead girl?
Yes, it appeared he had. Charlotte had agreed to marry him.
"Yes, mother I am fine," Charlotte assured Lady Isobel as the finishing touches were put to her wedding gown. "Yes, I already had my beak cleaned. And my claws cleaned. And a feather polish. Now stop fussing and enjoy the afternoon!"
It was the hottest day in Mauritius so far that year, and most guests were looking forward to after the formal ceremony, when they could get rid of their evening wear and make full use of Sir Charles' waterfall. Every distinguished dodo had tuned up to see the youngest of Sir Charles offspring fly the nest (figuratively speaking. The last dodo that had tried to fly had fallen fifty feet from the volcano crater, into the volcano. He was never spoken of again).
"Charlotte, have you seen Stephen?" Sir Charles waddled into the bride's marquee, straightening his bow tie.
"No, Daddy, it's bad luck for the bride and groom to meet before they get to the altar, you know that." Charlotte told him. "I thought he was with you, preparing the speeches."
"He's definitely not on the estate. I've asked all the servants, the girl from Dodo's World magazine and his mother."
"Well, Mummy is making me run through the vows one more time, so you are going to have to find him. Please hurry up; we're due to start in ten minutes!"
Ten minutes later, there was still no sign of the bridegroom. Dodos who had gone back to his house by the volcano reported his he was absent from there, although so was his suitcase and most of his personal effects. The safe kept behind the painting of the great Maximus, forefather of all dodos, had been emptied.
Twenty minutes after the ceremony was supposed to be finished, Charlotte had to admit that the duke had done a runner. She couldn't believe it! Stephen had been so charming and wonderful; he had been the first male dodo to take her dream of being a politician seriously – after Daddy, of course – but now Charlotte knew he had only been after her family's money and a third front cover of Dodo's World.
Wiping a tear from her face, Charlotte stood up, removed her headdress and threw it in the waterfall. She ruffled her feathers and waddled stiffly back to the bride's marquee, where she had left her suitcase for the honeymoon. Biding goodbye to her family and friends, she picked up her suitcase and lugged it to the very edge of Sir Charles' estate, to the boats kept in the harbour. Throwing her luggage into a boat and climbing in after it, Charlotte took one last look at her home island, then turned to the horizon. If she squinted, she thought she could see the outline of land, miles away. Perhaps, instead of being a politician, she could be an explorer…
Happy fourteenth, Ruby. I'm glad your parents liked it!