Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's Novel Wednesday! Another Chapter of My Novel

The last chapter is here.

For those in mourning that Downton Abbey's fourth series won't air until January 2014 in the U.S. (stupid PBS), get your country house fix here.  I'll confess that this isn't a full chapter -- the full chapter would take up an entire page.  But between this and my last chapter, it should give you a flavor of what my novel is about.  Again, legitimate feedback is welcome, either in the comments below or by clicking on the About Me link and hitting Email.

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Mount Edgecumbe House, taken by Philip Halling

Bella’s room.  Upon seeing it for the first time since her death, Elizabeth had the strong impulse to flee.  But she promised to come sort through her possessions, and here she was.

Except for the drawn curtains, the room looked just as it had when she was alive.  Her water basin was filled.  Brushes sat on her dressing table at varying angles, where her maid had last laid them down.  A list sat beside them, with “WHEN I AM ABLE” written carefully at the top.  But of course, she would never be able.  Elizabeth blinked back tears and tried to compose herself, as Isabella entered from the sitting room with a small box of items. 

Her niece seemed even more impervious than she did during their last meeting.  When Elizabeth arrived, she found her talking to that Miss Pieretto, the foreign woman that Bella never liked.  Isabella seemed to take her interruption as a grave insult, for she had barely said two words since.  Her eyes were intense, though.  Elizabeth had the feeling of being watched even when her niece’s face was turned.  Now Isabella laid the box on the bed and opened it. 

“I could not find anything in the sitting room that mamma would have wanted to part with,” she said.

Inside the box were several small brooches, rings, and other small jewels.  Elizabeth could remember seeing Bella wear them at some time or other, but they held no special meaning.  The brooch that Bella always wore, with locks of her dead child’s hair, had been buried with her.  “Surely she meant for you to have these things,” Elizabeth said in an uncertain tone.  “And maybe your brothers, when they marry.” 

“The only thing she promised me was a silver brooch that grandmother St. John gave her,” Isabella responded, “which I cannot find.  I don’t want to suspect Dallas or the other maids, but mamma was always careful with her things.” 

“Perhaps it fell off and slipped through a crack when she was unaware,” said Elizabeth.  For reasons that she could not place, Isabella’s mention of the brooch gave her a queer feeling.

Isabella’s eyes bored into her.  What did I say wrong? Elizabeth wanted to cry out.  “Nothing at all interests you, then?” Isabella demanded.  “Not even for Charlotte or dear Meg?”  This time she could not prevent some acid from leaking into her tone, and Elizabeth cringed at the way it laced the last two words.  Yes, I’m sure you care a great deal about ‘dear Meg.’  Thankfully, Meg was almost completely well.  Her health improved dramatically when she learnt about Edward’s condition.  She and Elizabeth spent hours talking about the dishes that they could prepare for him and how they could convince him to eat.  It was not that either thought Isabella incapable, but both sensed that he would be more amenable to someone outside of the Warpole family.  Would you do the same thing in her place?

“I didn’t come to collect anything,” Elizabeth said awkwardly.  “I came to offer help if you needed it.”

She wished that she had the warm grace of her sister, Mary.  Isabella seemed to respond to her most when she was there.  But alas, the Cryers had returned to Warwickshire, to the school where Martin was headmaster.  Now there was just Elizabeth, to whom her husband would always beg: “Please, my dear, try to think of what you should tell them, not what you would like to tell them.”  The comforting things that she planned to say fled her mind the moment she was faced with Isabella.  Elizabeth searched for words that her niece might actually respond to, and fell upon: “Your mother’s journals.  Have you found them?  She told me once that she meant for you to have them.”

Isabella shook her head a little, as if coming out of a trance.  “Mamma kept them all in her chest,” she said, moving to the foot of the bed and lifting the lid.  Inside, journals were stacked neatly in two columns, either by Bella herself, or by Isabella more recently.  There must have been at least twenty of them.  Elizabeth reached for one on the top left, and when Isabella did not discourage her, opened it to the first page.  Before Elizabeth had read a word, she knew by the fragile yellow pages that the journal was several years old.  She seems almost afraid of them, Elizabeth noted.  Of course, what girl wouldn’t find it painful to read the thoughts of a mother so recently gone?  Yet each journal entry read like one of Bella’s lists: “Got up at 5 o’clock.  Spoke to Mrs Manson about the green room.  Had breakfast with Mr W, ham & eggs, toast & tea.  Took a quarter-hour walk at 10 o’clock…”  Perhaps the confessions came later.  Elizabeth’s relief almost outweighed her disappointment.

She laid the journal back on the pile, which was next to a box of drawings so precious to Bella that Elizabeth did not think she could discuss them without breaking down.  She needed to tell Isabella what they meant, though, in case Isabella didn’t know.  In case she thought that they were just rubbish and should be burned.  Elizabeth glanced up and saw that Isabella was no longer by the bed.  Instead, she was at the door, talking urgently to Dallas on the other side.  She can’t already be confronting her.

“Isabella, dear…?”

The girl said one last word and then closed the door abruptly.  She turned around, and something about her tall black form against the dark wood made her seem threatening.  “I wanted to make certain that we wouldn’t be disturbed,” she said.

“I don’t think Dallas would be such a distraction--”

“Aunt Liza,” Isabella broke in, “you said that you wanted to help me.  You can help me by answering some questions about the way mamma died.”

Elizabeth’s throat felt dry.  She knew that this time would come, and perhaps that was the main reason why she had dreaded visiting Bella’s room.  “Yes,” she whispered.  “If I’m able.”

Isabella moved away from the door, closed the lid of Bella’s chest, and sat down on top of it.  Elizabeth sat awkwardly in the chair beside Bella’s dresser.  “And if they are not the answers you want to hear, could you bear it?” Elizabeth challenged her niece. 

“Yes, of course,” Isabella said irritably.  “I am not some weak little girl.”  No, Elizabeth thought, with some bewilderment.  She recalled seeing a white-faced girl in bed, struggling with each breath, whilst Bella moved about her like a frantic bird.  It seemed like only yesterday -- and in the grand scheme, it was only yesterday.  She had other memories -- more than she could count -- of Isabella as a sickly child.  Small, pale, and thin, with little energy and even less patience.  Yet now, it was as if Bella’s death had shaken off the last of her infirmaries.  She looked strong now, and hungry.

“I want to know about last summer,” Isabella said earnestly, leaning closer.  “I want to know about the women who killed mamma.”

Note that use of the photograph above does not mean Philip Halling endorses this work.  This work has been registered and may not be reproduced in any form without my express permission. 

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