A Formulaic Romance
This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.
It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. Her carriage is a wreck, the thoroughbrace, a leather strap that holds the cabin up, broke. When the cabin fell, it broke the axle. It’s snowing and they’re in trouble.
They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane. At least it wasn’t full of “slough” – a wonderful and now disused word for that unique mixture of horse apples, mud, and muck that so characterized roads in the days before the automobile.
An Interruption, continued.
Shortly after that, Rachel and her maid stood in front of the front door. The hall was an ancient building that some recent owner had tried to refit into the Georgian style, with mixed success. It was a far more impressive building than it had appeared from the main road.
Lucinda said, “It looks bigger than when we started.”
“They all do. Will you knock or shall I?”
Rachel quailed at the thought of knocking on the door. Then she steeled herself and said, “Ready?”
Lucinda nodded, and Rachel pulled the bell. A dull ring echoed from the depths of the hall. It finished echoing and yet was no response. Rachel pulled on it again. This time the door opened almost immediately. What had been a dull ring became unpleasantly loud.
A tall, gaunt man answered the door. He examined them, from head to foot, and then from foot to head, taking in the details of their dress and its apparent cleanliness or lack thereof. Finally having decided that they were less than genteel, he said, “Yes, Miss? We do not make donations or give alms from this house. The servants’ entrance is in the back if you are desirous of employment. Though we do not need a scullery maid at present.”
“I am Rachel, Lady Hayforth and this is my companion, Miss Holloway. My, our carriage broke on the main road and we wondered if we could find some shelter from this inclement weather. Common manners would suggest that we should be welcome.”
The man slowly nodded, and then said, “As you say, Ma’am. If you will accompany me, I shall see what the master says.”
He opened the door and lead the two women into the dark hall, and then into a side parlour. One lined with books, and unlike many country houses, someone had actually read the books. A plethora, a veritable ark of stuffed animals decorated the room. This only added to its melancholy. A melancholy that the stale odour of musty disuse did little to abate. After saying, “Please wait here,” he turned and slowly made his way off into the dim recesses of the building.
Lucinda turned to her mistress and said, “This is just like a Gothic romance. I’d not be surprised to find a skeleton behind that curtain.” Behind her water streaked down the windows. The storm had decided that rain was in order and now the heavens had opened. The darkening skies made the room grow ever more dim and full of shadows. Rachel did not fail to notice how Lucinda shook from the cold, her teeth chattering as her body tried to warm itself.
“Nonsense Lucinda. It is 1817. This is England, and not some strange foreign land.” Rachel strode to the curtain, looked at her maid, and pulled the curtain aside. “What did I tell you?”
Lucinda gasped. Rachel turned and looked behind her. A skeleton stood and grinned back at them, gap-toothed with age; a human skeleton mounted as an anatomical display. She quickly pulled the curtain closed with a snap.
“Ah well. Interesting that. Wonder what else we’ll find.”
Lucy said, “Something to eat would be good.”
“I’m so famished that I’d gnaw on these bones.”
“Let’s hope they have a good laundress. Your gown, Miss.”
“Not to mention my face. At least we’re out of the rain and the cold.”
A library was a necessary feature of every genteel dwelling. Since books were expensive, it was a way to puff off wealth as well as demonstrate the culture and erudition of the owners. Actually though, it was not necessary to read the books, and all sorts of interesting things have been found when the libraries were finally cataloged.