[Please support this narrative by clicking on the link above even if it is some bizarre evangelical madness, because the rumor is somehow some tiny amount of funds will come to me at some point. Once clicked, you may of course laugh hilariously at whatever hectoring you find.]
“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?”