Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ambulatory Cadavers Excerpt

Chapter Three: In Which Lyra’s Diabolical Plans Are Thwarted
Lyra hated company. One had to get up so god-awful early. The Duke of Hopenheim was always very strict about traditional Monezuelan breakfast, even though fashionable society had begun to adopt the British form of breaking the fast in a much less formal manner. The Duke of Hopenheim liked to have everyone together in the mornings so he could glare at them all in turn and tell them what he thought they ought to do with their lives. And he insisted upon dress.
Afraid of Alice’s quaint way of looking much too sprightly in the mornings, Lyra rose especially early to make absolute certain that her barmy cousin didn’t outdo her. She had to rouse her lady’s maid from an apparent binge sleep-off and wasted a good ten minutes getting Bridgette out of bed and then thirty to get her hair satisfactorily tamed into an acceptable arrangement of curls and topknot. Perhaps she should just get a Titus cut, it would be less trouble.
After much deliberation and very little input from the sluggish maid, Lyra decided on a cream chiffon and silk gown. Then she realized a bit of ribbon needed sewing back on and dresses and pearls and bonnets and shoes and parasols hurricaned around the room.
Lyra grudgingly slipped into a pale blue muslin gown and tripped down to breakfast late. Lyra stopped on the thresh-hold. The breakfast room was empty save for the butler.
“What’s the meaning of this, Jeebie?”
“I haven’t missed breakfast, have I?” Lyra asked, suddenly greatly afraid. “Did Leroux make my favorite?” She always missed breakfast when Leroux made her favorite.
“No, miss,” Jeebie said, pulling out a chair.
“No to which?”
“You have not missed breakfast, but neither has Leroux made your favorite.”
Lyra sighed. When would things work out in her favor? She glanced down at her gown. All this carefulness for nothing. She strode into the room and took her seat.
“Where is Alice? And Papa?”
“Still asleep, m’lady,” Jeebie said, placing a plate before her.
“Ah, well, let them miss out, I say,” Lyra said. She tucked in with enthusiasm. More enthusiasm than was generally considered proper for a young lady, but no one was at breakfast, so she excused herself. “More sausage,” she demanded.
Lyra was halfway through her indecorous seconds when Alice arrived. Lyra swallowed rapidly, nearly choking, and assumed a more polite eating rhythm. She glowered at Alice’s lustrous hair, perfectly arranged with little flowers of silk. Her porcelain complexion, humongous blue eyes, sweet as a baby’s, and adorable little nose and mouth always made Lyra furious.
“Good morning, Alice,” Lyra said. “I thought you’d never come!”
“So did I,” Alice said resignedly, “but I got so hungry. Is…uncle here?” Alice looked around fearfully.
Lyra rolled her eyes. “Yes, he’s invisible,” she said sardonically.
Alice started and gasped quietly. “He is?”
“No, you twit,” Lyra scoffed, silently praying for the chandelier to fall on her head.
“Oh,” Alice said, her voice heavy with relief. “Is he not coming down to breakfast?” she asked hopefully.
“I hope not,” Lyra said.
Alice smiled tentatively. Or maybe not, it was hard to tell since Alice seemed to do everything tentatively. Even sitting down. Alice sat down tentatively and began to tentatively taste her breakfast. Hungry indeed. She must have slept in late to recover from Aunt Elizabeth’s tirade. That must be what was keeping Papa in bed as well.
“I hear you have a proposal,” Lyra said innocently. Alice cringed. “Rupert Winkle, the Earl of Chornby.”
“He did propose to me,” Alice confirmed tentatively. Lyra silently applauded her; the girl was an artist of the oxymoronic.
“You could do worse,” Lyra said.
“Not much worse, I should guess,” Alice responded. Lyra was shocked. The girl actually had fight in her.
“He is a hideous old sack of vitriol,” Lyra said, “but he could be a hideous old sack of vitriol without a title.”
“I could give him many titles,” Alice mumbled.
What did you say?” Lyra asked, leaning forward.
“Nothing,” Alice said, turning a lovely shade of scarlet. Lyra was astounded.
“What kind of titles?”
“I shouldn’t,” Alice said, “he really hasn’t done me any wrong other than ask for my hand whilst holding such prestige and titles and an unfortunate lack of the delightful in his personality.”
“He strikes me as a wife beater,” Lyra said.
“No!” gasped Alice. “I mean, surely not. He seems more like the kind who might stay away for long periods of blissful time.” A hopeful look came across her face.
“So you’re giving up?” Lyra asked, on one hand disappointed in what she had thought was a new and braver Alice, and on the other delighted that she would soon be leaving.
“I didn’t say that,” Alice said. “I started out to defend his character and found myself on a road I did not want to be on.”
“That’s what happens when you defend characters undeserving of kindness and friendship.”
“That’s very uncharitable,” Alice admonished.
“Charity,” Lyra said disparagingly, “what a useless scrap of rubbish.”
“’And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins’” Alice said.
“Jeebie!” Lyra called. “Bring me the newspaper, she’s quoting scripture!”
Jeebie brought her a freshly cut and ironed paper and vanished back into the shadows. Butlers, supernatural creatures of darkness. It was like having a djinn. She flipped through the paper, making sure to hold it forbiddingly between her and Alice.