Sunday, November 26, 2006


[Apparently there are only crazy religious sites that advertise with Google. It may not be worth it to have the ad spot...]

“What did he say?” Lady Mangrove said with some consternation. “Why is everybody whispering?”

“He’s here to investigate,” Lizzie stated as loudly as she thought could still be considered genteel in front of the doctor.

“Instigate? Instigate what?”

“I am here, Lady Mangrove,” the doctor clarified, his own tone pitched loud enough to rattle some of the cutlery in the next room, “To investigate the murder!”

“Murder,” snorted Lady Mangrove, in what Lizzie could not help noticing was an unsuitably ungenteel fashion, “What murder?”

Doctor Ponsonby snatched a small blue bottle from the table. It was marked with what appeared to be two triangles, one inverted, the other missing a little bit in the bottom line. He thrust it before Lady Mangrove’s perfect nose. “I put it to you that this is arsenic, my lady!”

“Of course, it’s arsenic,” Lady Mangrove continued, her tone now matching the shouting of the others. “That’s my husband’s arsenic concoction. Vinegar I believe,” she added, a finger thoughtfully to her lips. “I believe he mixes it with vinegar. My sister always added chalk, but my dear husband would have none of that. Always preferred the ruddy complexion. Suits a man, he always said, did he not, Alice?”

“Yes, he did, mama,” Alice said, remembering to modulate her voice appropriately. The tension in the room was becoming unbearable, but the young woman could easily be forgiven for hoping that it might endure just a bit longer. It was the most excitement there had ever been in the nearly always silent house. Unused as her ears were to the thunderous tones of this day, it was certainly a pleasant change. Not that she had forgotten the death of her father, mind you, but she should surely be forgiven being caught up in the excitement that surrounded the unexpected events that day.

“So, you poisoned your husband!” Doctor Ponsonby shrieked at last, brandishing the bottle with its horrid alchemical symbol before the stoic face of Alice’s mother.

“Stuff and nonsense,” replied the unperturbed woman. Lizzie herself felt an unaccustomed sense of admiration for Lady Mangrove, whose accomplishments heretofore had seldom crept outside the arena of needlepoint and whist. Alice was quite done in with astonishment. Was this the same woman who meekly responded, “yes, dear” to nearly every didactic pronouncement of her father? While she was temporarily distracted by wondering whether she had used the word “didactic” properly in her thoughts, Alice soon returned to astonishment at her mother’s daring.

“Lord Mangrove was in the habit of taking his arsenic daily. He believed it to be a powerful tonic--”

“Powerful tonic!” the doctor shouted with a great deal of bluster. But his bluster failed him at that moment, and he merely repeated, “Powerful tonic?!”

“There’s no need to shout,” Lady Mangrove continued, “I believe my hearing has at last returned. As I say, he took the mixture of arsenic and vinegar -- with a little basil in the summer times -- on a daily basis for his health. I’m certain the amount of arsenic cannot have been sufficient to have killed him.”

“Well,” the doctor relented, “Perhaps not. I shall have to perform an --”

“Doctor, do you mind?” Lady Mangrove deliberately set aside her needlepoint and stood up. At her low height, one might not initially consider it to be an impressive move, but she had a way of making her not quite five feet of height matter more than people twice her size. “My child is traumatized and fatherless. Please do not injure her further with your talk of horrid and mundane tasks!”

The doctor bowed his head, crestfallen. “I only thought… well, for once I might have to… yes, Lady Mangrove, I apologize most heartily.”

“Never mind! Lizzie, take Alice’s other arm. We must escort her to her room, she has to recover from this terrible blow. And we have a funeral to plan -- call Mrs. Perkins once we’ve deposited poor Alice in her bed.” Alice had a curiosity worthy of her cousin that made her wish to stay there and see what the doctor might do next, but the two women each grabbed an arm and began to whisk her from the room before she could think of protesting. At the door, her mother seemed to recall something to mind and she paused, turning.

“I nearly forgot, Doctor Ponsonby! Do check on Arthur. I’m afraid I shot him. Perhaps you will have a murder to investigate after all.” And she turned back to bustle her daughter to her room with Lizzie’s help, there to administer a helpful dose of laudanum which caused Alice to slip into a dream almost at once.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Alice’s lack of compassion for the young man was understandable, perhaps, given her strong likelihood of being married to him in the very near future. But surely the sight of his pale visage peering round the door would have stirred the sympathies of any heart not already obdurate to his welfare. Of course, a conversation of even five minutes would easily have remedied that initial stirring, for Arthur Boylett was an inveterate bore.

There was no subject on which he could not wax mind-numbingly, tediously dull. And most subjects of his choosing inclined sharply in the direction of boring—land management schemes, tax redundancies and the obscure minutia of the lives of the long dead kings. Alice could scarcely conceal her tendency to yawn when Arthur got going on the effects of adding furrows to increase drainage or spoke at length on Edward the Confessor’s collection of holy relics and spoons.

However, this time Arthur managed to be brief. “Is the doctor on his way?” he exhaled wearily.

Janet was the first to answer, which was handy as she was the only one with first-hand knowledge of the issue. “Yes, sir,” Janet said with another little curtsey. “He should be here directly. Oughtn’t you be sitting down, Mister Boylett?”

Rather than respond, Arthur simply sank to the floor. As he fell, his arm flew out, revealing the rather large stain of blood that had soaked through his shirt. Alice gasped and Lizzie once again blurted, “Heavens!”

Mrs. Perkins, however, was quick to act and dragged the unfortunate young man toward a chair. “Help me, dear” she said to Janet, who stepped forward eagerly enough but gingerly tried to avoid touching the blood-soaked shirt.

“You don’t mean to say my mother shot Arthur, do you?” Alice was impressed. She had certainly never thought of doing that.

Janet tried to curtsey as they lifted Arthur to the chair, causing Mrs. Perkins to grumble. “Yes, Miss, she did, but I don’t think she did it on purpose.”

Alice wisely kept her thoughts to herself. She knew all too well that her mother did not share her father’s keenness on Arthur as a suitor. “Poor mother—she must be terribly upset.”

Lizzie nodded. “We must go to her at once. Two shocks like this will be quite dangerous even for a woman of her robust health.”

She grabbed Alice’s hand and the two walked swiftly to the morning room where they found Lady Mangrove bent over her needlepoint before a large mass covered by a table cloth. Alice was just thinking “Why I’ve never noticed that there before,” when it occurred to her that this was no doubt the body of her father, now frozen in the curious posture Mrs. Perkins had described. She thought perhaps it wouldn’t be quite the right thing to remove the covering to see her father in an attitude he would never have chose to take in life, but her hand inched toward the tablecloth as if on its own.

Before she got to it, Lizzie interrupted her morbid fascination by shrieking, “How are you, Lady Mangrove?” at very nearly the top of her vocal capacity. Why is she shouting, Alice thought, derailing her mind from the curiosity about her father.

Lady Mangrove failed to react, however, sewing away deftly with her needle and thread. It was only when Lizzie touched her shoulder that Lady Mangrove looked up, smiled and announced “I can’t hear a thing. That damn pistol is much too loud for indoors.” She cast a glance at the instrument itself, lying innocently on the small oak table. “Is Boylett dead?” she asked Lizzie.

Lizzie answered no, and made sure to shake her head as well.

“Pity,” Lady Mangrove said, echoing her daughter’s desire. “Though I didn’t mean to shoot him. I thought he was someone else when he walked in.”

“Who?” Alice asked, suddenly realizing that she did not really know her mother all that well. But her mother had not heard her. She was about to attempt a louder shout when the door flew open and Doctor Ponsonby entered, exclaiming, “No one must touch that body! The constable is on his way to investigate this murder!”

Sunday, November 12, 2006


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“Heavens!” cried Lizzie, forgetting all propriety in the shock of the moment. “What can that be?”

Alice stared at her, thunderstruck. She had never heard the word out loud with such a charged tone. Yet, the sound had been startling. The three of them were just turning toward the door when it flew open once again to reveal Janet the scullery maid, breathless and red-faced.

“It’s your mother,” she squeaked.

While her addressee was uncertain, Alice had no doubt she herself had been meant. Lizzie’s mother was seven years dead, and Mrs. Perkins—well, honestly she had no idea whether Mrs. Perkins had a mother living or dead. Oh certainly, a mother she must have had! Alice corrected her wandering thoughts, surely a mother. But she realized that she had never once inquired about Mrs. Perkins’ mother, alive or dead, and was conscious once more—fleetingly—of how cavalierly she treated the trustworthy woman who had ordered her life since before birth. I shall do better, Alice swore to herself—a promise quickly forgotten in the ensuing hours yet one we really ought to honor her for, nonetheless. Alice rightly began to consider whether her disordered thoughts were the result of all the shocks. After all, she could only assume the worst. Her mother, too, was dead, perhaps. And while to lose one parent, might be considered a distinct misfortune, she was quite certain that to lose two would leave her out of all sympathy as someone who ought to have taken better care of her predecessors.

Janet, however, clarified her initial remark to the relief of all three women who evidently had been thinking along similar lines. “She has discharged your father’s pistol!” All three of her addressees breathed a sigh of relief.

Lizzie was the first to recover herself. “Why on earth did she do such a thing,” she demanded of the trembling maid. “Surely, not—” and the horrible conclusion that presented itself to the wise young woman fortunately escaped her struggling cousin for the moment.

Young Janet was quick to restore equilibrium. “Oh no, miss,” the clever maid assured her lady, “it was only on account of the young man. She meant no harm.”

“Young man,” said Alice with a great deal of curiosity. “What young man?!”

“Why Mr. Boylett, of course,” Janet finished, turning to her young mistress with a hint of a smile. Mr. Boylett was a great favorite among the house staff for he generally always dropped large amounts of change out of his pockets as he made his awkward way through the house.

He was less than a favorite of Alice’s, however, as may already be plain. “But my mother is all right?” Alice asked somewhat peevishly. It would have to be tiresome old Arthur who caused such a fuss just when she was thinking she would be free of him.

“Your mother is a bit bewildered and trifle deaf,” Janet continued. “The doctor is already on his way, so he will be able to determine the extent of her hearing loss. Begging your pardon, miss,” Janet said with a hasty cursey, “we’re so sorry to hear of your loss.”

“Thank you, Janet” Alice replied with great gravity. The shock of her father’s death had not yet reached her heart although it had begun to sink into the relatively calm, still and shallow waters of her mind. “How did my father pass anyway? We are sorely pressed for details!”

Lizzie nodded agreement. “We should like to know more about what happened. This is all so sudden!”

Janet nodded sadly in agreement. “I had just brought him his daily tincture of arsenic when he simply keeled over all of the sudden. It was like a bolt from the blue!”

Lizzie was about to bring forth her pet theory that arsenic, far from being the tonic her uncle assumed, was in fact extremely dangerous, when a pale spectre peered from the half-open door of the library and whispered weedily, “Alice, Alice…”

The women turned and gasped.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Alice said daringly, “What is it, Arthur?”

Sunday, November 05, 2006


[N.B. -- please consider clicking on the above sponsored link to help support this free narrative!]

“Dead?” Alice said with wonder.

“Dead!” Mrs. Perkins was adamant.

“Are you sure?” Lizzie asked. After all, Lord Mangrove had been a man of legendary silences, and Lizzie was to be forgiven the doubts that prompted such an otherwise impertinent question. There was time not five years past when Lord Mangrove had gone without more than a harrumph for over six months. At that time Lord and Lady Mangrove had come to some rather ineffective disagreements about a parlour maid. It was perhaps the worst of their silent struggles, but it was far from the only one.

Mrs. Perkins, however,was not to be dissuaded. “Oh, child, I hate to give you the news in such a terrible manner,” she said, flustered, offering a perfunctory half-curtsey.

“It’s all right,” Alice soothed. “I hardly know what to feel. I do feel extremely odd and a bit queerly dizzy.”

“You must sit at once,” Mrs. Perkins and Lizzie said in tandem, both fearing that perhaps the young woman was about to faint. Alice followed their advice, collapsing into a sensible pine library chair. Dead! Her father was dead! Perhaps, Alice thought excitedly, she would not have to marry Mister Boylett after all.

“And how is Lady Mangrove?” Lizzie asked the faithful servant.

“She… she is rather shocked, as you might imagine, Miss,” Mrs. Perkins said, although Lizzie thought perhaps she was not offering the entire truth.

“What happened, Mrs. Perkins?” Lizzie demanded, artfully pulling out a second chair for the wearied servant. “Tell us from beginning to end.”

Mrs. Perkins sank into the proffered chair and a rough hand rubbed her troubled brow. “It was a most peculiar thing,” she began, “Not that people go on dying every day, child. Oh, and my greatest and most humble sorrow for your loss, miss.” She seemed on the verge of rising once more if only to curtsey, but Lizzie restrained her with a gentle gesture that belied her growing impatience with the strange mystery.

“Go on, Mrs. Perkins,” Lizzie encouraged, “How did it begin? Start there and then go to the end. Then stop.”

Mrs. Perkins drew in a breath. “I was just about to set to the kitchen, a million and one things to do as well you might guess – not that such work should be any worry of fine young ladies like yourselves,” she added patting Alice’s soft white hand. “All of the sudden I heard a horrible sound, like a wild bird’s squawk or something.”

“African? Or European?” Lizzie asked, but Alice shushed her with a waver of her hand and bad Mrs. Perkins to go on.

“I rushed to the door of the morning room and there such a sight awaited me! Your father, Miss Alice, was lying on the floor in a most peculiar disarray, arms clutching at the air and legs in a most ungainly crouching position, but him flat on his back like a puppy.”

Alice thought of the image and could not quite hide a smile. “It must have looked most… curious,” she finally said, coughing a little to cover up her involuntary merriment. Her cousin, she noticed, did not grin but looked ever more intently at Mrs. Perkins.

The shocked housekeeper did not notice Alice’s inappropriate mirth, but continued with her tragic tale. “Your mother looked up from her needlepoint with a most shocked appearance, her hands frozen in the air as if unable to move. Until I finally gasped and your mother at last said, and I shall always remember these terrible words: ‘Mrs. Perkins, I believe something has happened to my husband.’ Truer words were never spoken,” she added with a shudder.

“And are you sure — that is, have you truly ascertained, that he is… dead?” Lizzie said gently.

“I have sent young Master Spiggot for the doctor. We shall know soon enough now,” Mrs. Perkins intoned sagely, her composure returned.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash and a scream in the hall.