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  • Jagged
    A confused voice within
    • Mar 2004
    • 760


    For my distant aunt Birthe,
    an angel.
    And for Mr Rodney Bolt
    who came first.

    1. A Strange Man

    The puppy was behaving most irregularly. However much he was put in place, he kept jumping up, panting with his tongue hanging indecently in the free, and biting Minnie's shoes.
    "It's a tea party," she admonished. "Sit nicely."
    Frisk seemed to be sadly lacking in comprehension. He just kept running around and drooling all over the fine china.
    "Sit!" she cried desperately. "Sit!"
    "Now, now. Don't get all worked up."
    Minnie turned to look at her mother. The sun was falling into her eyes, the pollen was filling her nostrils, and the crickets kept on their grinding noice. Mother crouched and patted her upon the head. Minnie found the gesture infuriatingly patronizing.
    "But Frisk won't sit nicely at the tea table!" she protested. "He must sit nicely, mustn't he?"
    "He's just a dog, Minnie. Now, be nice and meet Edward. He's your cousin, you know. Ada and Eleanor's brother. So, practically yours, too."
    Minnie got up and looked at the man standing slightly to the back at mother's right. Ada and Eleanor had been living with the family since their parents' death, and she thought of them as her sisters; so their brother was, indeed, like her own brother. Still, on occasions of introduction, formalities must be observed for an aspiring hostess. She stretched out her hand and curtseyed. "Pleased to meet you, I'm sure."
    The man shook her hand. "And I'm pleased to meet you. Why, you're an adorable little girl, aren't you?"
    Minnie giggled.
    "Will you excuse me, Edward?" said Mother. "What with Her Majesty herself coming down to dinner and all, I'm frightfully busy. I have to look in on the servants."
    "Of course," said the strange man who apparantly was Minnie's relative. "I'll just keep Minnie company for a while." He sat down on the blanket on the grass and adjusted Frisk's disarranged miniature porcelain. "Will you allow me to join the party?"
    Relieved to have a gentleman as a guest for once, Minnie got back to the position facing him. "Certainly, Sir," she said. "You're most welcome. I'll be mother." She poured air into his cup and asked, "Milk and sugar?"
    "No, thank you," he said. "I find such additions to be a corruption of the fine imbibement with which the Lord has blessed us. Don't you?"
    "I do, Mr Edward."
    "Benson," said the cousin. "My surname is Benson."
    "Bisquit, Mr Benson?"
    "Just one, then," said Edward and picked up a piece of air from the plate that Minnie presented to him. "On social occasions, we must indulge ourselves to be polite."
    "I baked them myself."
    "Oh, my. They're extraordinarily delicious. You have the touch of a poet, Miss Sidgwick."
    "You're too kind. I'm just doing my duty as a hostess."
    "But what an unusually splendid job you're doing of your duty." He was sincerely impressed. "If more of our day's ladies were like you, we wouldn't be in such troubled times."
    "Another cup?" She lifted the tea pot.
    "Well, I must drink my first cup." He picked it up, blew at it, and carefully took a sip, sending dreamy eyes towards the sky. "Heavenly. Lapsang Souchong, is it?"
    It wasn't quite right to blow at one's tea, but Minnie was so close to ecstasy that she was prepared to overlook this slight. Nobody had ever been so appreciative of her skills. "Yes."
    "Well, maybe I'll have just a drop of milk, then. It's a tradition with this fine tea. It's very important to keep up traditions."
    And then, disaster set in. Back from an expedition into the rose bed, Frisk came tumbling and bungling straight into the middle of the exquisitely set table and upset everything. He even smashed the milk pot that she was just about to employ. Reduced to tears and forgetting even the most basic of manners, she jumped up and lashed out at him. "Bad Frisk! BAD!"
    Taking the unexpected blow on his snout, Frisk cowered before her and whined.
    "Easy now, Miss Sidgwick," said Mr. Benson. "The dog doesn't know why you're scolding him. Being firm is necessary at times, but you should always make sure that he knows the cause of his punishment. Look at him, he's so sorry and eager to please you."
    "But everything is ruined now!" Minnie looked down at the jumbled plates and bowls with their hand-painted periwinkles lying in a total mess. She wouldn't consciously have decided to throw a tantrum, but it was all plus fort que lui. She fell onto the grass and cried loudly.
    Beth, who had been engrossed in her embroidery, sprang from the bench in the shade of the elderberries like a jack-in-the-box and, holding on to her bonnet with one hand and heaving up her skirts with the other, rushed towards the place of the calamity. On her arrival, she found Mr Benson holding Minnie around her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her.
    "Minnie!" she said. "I think it's better if you go to bed now."
    Trying to get a grip on herself, Minnie wiped her eyes. She didn't want to go to bed this early. She got up and looked at Beth with pleading eyes. "I'm sorry, Beth. I'm all right now."
    The nurse quickly surveyed the scattered havoc and had to decide on a course of action. "You can clean up this mess, and we'll see." She turned to Mr Benson. "I hope you haven't been put out by Minnie's shenanigans."
    "Not at all," said Edward. "I find her spirits most invigorating."
    "Well, they may be invigorating, but they're also disruptive, I'm afraid." Beth kept her eyes on Minnie who was doing her best to tidy up. "Mrs Sidgwick will be very upset when she hears about this."
    "Oh, no!" Minnie, once again, felt panic creeping up her spine. "Please don't tell Mother."
    "I'm sorry Minnie, but I'll have to." Beth looked apologetically at Minnie. "It's what I'm being paid for."
    "But it was all Frisk's fault!"
    "I know," said Beth while ascertaining that Minnie had cleaned up all the china and shards thereof. "But you know how your mother puts importance on you not behaving like an animal." She took the girl by her hand and started guiding her towards the house. Edward and Frisk followed merrily.
    Entering through the scullery, Beth brought Minnie to the kitchen and sat her down at the servants' dinner table. "You'll have to wait here," she said and vanished into the greater house.
    Cousin Edward sat down on the chair next to Minnie's, and Frisk cuddled around her feet.
    The girl slumped forward and laid her hands onto the table. Everything was lost now. She was spiralling down into dispair when she felt her cousin's hand placing itself on hers and giving it a comforting squeeze.
    "You're in trouble now," said Edward in a sad voice, "aren't you?"
    Minnie sobbed and nodded.
    "Everything will be all right," he said. "You'll have to be strong and face the music. That's the order of things. But it's not the end of the world. When you have done your penance, you can rise again and face the world, all the stronger."
    Mother in Fury was not to be taken lightly. The door burst open, and Mrs Sidgwick stormed in like a force of nature. Edward quickly gave Minnie's hand another squeeze before withdrawing his own.
    "Minnie!" Mother exclaimed. "What is this that Beth tells me?"
    "I was just trying to teach Frisk..." Minnie was talking quickly, knowing that she wouldn't be given much time to get her word in.
    "You know it's not the day for setting everything else aside for the upbringing of the dog." Mother went over to the girl's chair and offered her hand. "It's better if I take you to bed. The sooner the better."
    "But I'm hungry."
    "You should have thought of that before behaving like a eumenide. You know this is a day of honour for me. When you can't observe such a simple thing, you can't possibly be trusted. To bed with you."
    Minnie felt injustice and sulked.
    "I don't have time for this." Mrs Sidgwick turned to the nurse who was standing very silently behind her. "Take Minnie to bed immeditately, please." She turned to leave the kitchen, but stopped for a moment to say, "And Mrs Hudson. None of your misguided softness. Minnie doesn't deserve your morsels of comfort." And while Cook was making curtsies and promises, Mrs Sidgwick slammed the door behind her.
    As Beth went over to the table, Minnie got up, as did cousin Edward.
    "Well, good night, sweet princess, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." He shook Minnie's hand and made for the firmly closed door to the hall.
    The nurse took the misguided child up the back stairs. They did have to pass the main landing of the first floor on their way to the nursery and, as servants were always as notoriously nosy as children, Beth agreed to stop for a moment and hide behind the balustrade so that they could both watch the ceremony going on in the hall.
    Below them, Queen Victoria in all her splendour was standing as the centerpiece of attention, the Prince Consort appended and surrounded by dignitaries, Minnie's mother and siblings, and that gentlemen's gentleman, Mr Benson.
    "His Holiness won't be able to join us tonight," Minnies mother was explaining to Her Majesty. "His wife has been taken ill, and he's worried that they may have to set off her leg."
    The Queen wasn't much taken aback by the absence of Archbishop Howley, but made light of it. "In my day, ladies didn't have legs," she said casually and sailed across the floor towards the dining room.
    Minnie and her nurse kept watching closely as the party followed in Her Majesty's wake, making all the sorts of witty and entertaining conversation they could come up with.
    Silence fell upon the hall as the doors to the dining room closed, and Beth got up from her hiding, straightened out her clothes, and dragged Minnie on to her bed.
    "Can Frisk sleep with me tonight, please?" asked Minnie as she was tugging in.
    Beth, acknowledging that Minnie had, indeed, been behaving impeccably since her arrest, as well as maybe having a knowledge better kept hidden about the surveillance of superiors, felt lenient. "Yes, all right, then," she said kindly. "But no letting him into your bed, now!"
    Minnie promised, and when Frisk came jumping into her bed when they were left alone, she firmly pushed him down onto the floor. Five or ten minutes went past before the door silently slid slightly ajar, and Beth's face appeared to watch Minnie in her pretended sleep.
    After that, Minnie let Frisk into the bed. His warmth was comforting, and even if she knew that he'd be taking up much more space in her bed next morning than he did at this moment of ingratiation, she was greatly pleased by his presence. She desperately needed the love and comfort, and the puppy was providing it better than anyone else. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut to fall to sleep, while thinking of her crimes, and that made her lie awake for a long time, wondering if that unique cousin Edward would ever pay her the slightest attention after such a day.
    She need not have worried.
    Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:38 PM.
    "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.
  • Jagged
    A confused voice within
    • Mar 2004
    • 760

    2. The Perfect Princess

    "Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are sealed:
    I strove against the stream and all in vain:
    Let the great river take me to the main:
    No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
    Ask me no more."

    At the age of eleven, Minnie was quoting Tennyson perfectly. Her cousin was shining with pride at her recital, being the one to have nurtured her love for poetry.
    Emmeline was yawning, and Edward fixed his sister with a stare of such contempt that she immediately got herself into a properly uncomfortable upright position and applauded so vigorously that her palms began to feel sore.
    "I think it's bedtime now," Edward heralded, and the family obediently got up from their chairs.
    It was the first night that Minnie spent in a strange place. The Bensons' house was quirky enough as it was, but her doubt about the sincerity of the family's praisings of her made her walk around like she was treading on the needle bed of an Indian guru. It wasn't that Edward wasn't doing his best to make her comfortable, it was just that his best missed something that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
    "Maybe you should take me home," she said as he took her up the stairs towards the black corridor on the first floor. "I don't want to be a burden to your family."
    "Nonsense," said Edward, tightening his grip of her hand. "We're all tremendously delighted to have you here."
    "Edward, dear," she said, as he was leading her down the tunnel that his candle lit up only faintly, "I'm such a coward, you know, and I'd like to go home to Beth and Mother."
    "Don't you like it here?" Edward asked.
    "Oh, sure I do. I just think that... Beth and Frisk may be missing me."
    "I'm sure they do," said Edward. "Who wouldn't? But they have to learn to deal with life's stark realities. We all do."
    He stopped at one of the doors to the left and put his arm around Minnie's shoulder. "You should see this. It's my private oratory."
    "Private?" The black and dark crimson wall-papers hung with portraits of unknown but very formally and sternly looking ancestors made her feel somewhat uncomfortable in the flickering light. "Please, Edward, I don't want to intrude."
    He made no reply, but turned the handle and made the door open with a creaking like the sigh of a tired god.
    "I used to try to keep it clean," he said, "but that's not possible with so many women in the house. You know what women are like... well, not you, of course... but most of them. Nosy and incomprehending."
    He pushed her into the dark room and closed the door behind them.
    Just as she thought she was seeing something like the outlines of a weird altar, a chill breeze came from nowhere and blew out the candle in Edward's hand. She took a stop forward, then another step, extracting her arms in front of her in the hope to find something to hold on to.
    There was a clatter of furniture and other stuff falling, and mysteriously, a hand grabbed hold of her right buttock. She let out a scream. "Edward! Don't touch me there!"
    "What?" Edward sounded confused. "I'm not touching you. You're touching me."
    "You touched me!"
    "No, I didn't."
    "Yes, you did."
    "No, I didn't. Hold on. Let me get the light back on."
    The swishing sound of a sulphur stick brought hope to the doomed and some renewed light. Minnie saw Christ hanging on a cross in front of her, blood running from his eyes, and with a gasp she turned and saw Edward lying among chairs and a turned-over table across the room, holding the lit stick up in an attempt to relight his candle. He was too far away to be the one to have fondled her virginial behind, and she spinned her gaze around the room, sliding it up the altar while Edward was shouting, "I've got it now. Don't worry. I'm getting the light back on." A short moment before his promise was put to vain, Minnie was letting her glance slide upwards over the crucifix, and in letters like fire on the wall, she read the to her unknown word


    before everything went dark once more.
    Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:17 PM.
    "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


    • Jagged
      A confused voice within
      • Mar 2004
      • 760

      3. A Ghastly Night

      "Don't be scared."
      Minnie didn't reply but just stood still on the floor, as though Edward might forget about her presence if she made no noice or movement.
      "Come over here, and take my hand," he pleaded.
      It was supposed to be the happiest night of her life. She kept telling herself that. Yet, somehow it felt terribly wrong, and she hesitantly took a step towards the closet, wanting to put her dress back on, as though the veil might bring her back to an earlier time of the day. Everything had been perfect until she and Edward had undressed.
      She didn't believe her ears and whirled around. "What was that, Edward?" she inquired, her voice ringing oddly harsh in her own ears.
      "My beloved!" said Edward. "You're the most important person on Earth. You're my one and all. You're my goddess. Please come to me."
      "That's not what you said!"
      "Mary! Please!" he sounded like he was going to pieces. "At least tell my what I have done wrong."
      "You said... that word! You promised me we'd never mention it again."
      "What word?" His confusion was so sincere that she began feeling more sorry for him than for herself.
      The wedding itself had been gorgeous. She had truly felt like a princess when her brother Henry had led her down the aisle to give her away in matrimony. Everybody had been so kind and celebratory that she had wondered how God could let such an insignificant person as herself be the center of such festivity. She had been in a state beyond mere intoxication when they had made their vows, kissed and hugged every relative and friend, and hurried to the carriage outside. She had relished in her beautiful wedding gown, all in white as had been fashion since the Queen's wedding, as the midday sun shone upon Edward and her, as though promising them a bright and untroubled future, near and far.
      The sun, however, makes no promises, as she now realized, confronting her new serious obligations of married life. When they had "eloped", with the blessing of the The Church of England, friends and family, and even the reluctant Mrs Sidgwick herself, they had reached France on the very same night. They had booked in at the hotel where Edward had reserved the most luxurious suite, and they had rushed to it, thinking of nothing but to enjoy the company of their lives' one-and-onlies.
      All the way, to the sounds of horses hooves, metal wheels against railroad tracks, waves against the ship's side, Edward had been talking enthusiastically of all the glories lying in wait for them. He was going to show her The World. The Cathedral of Cologne, the monastaries of the Mediterrenean, the great Church of St Peter. And they were to consummate their marriage. Even that had sounded perfect when he had talked about it. She had even looked forward to it. She had had absolutely no idea what a man looked like without his clothes on, even if she had been guessing with her girl friends during much blushing and giggling.
      When the moment had finally arrived, when she and her husband in their secret exile known to everybody, had exposed their modesty to each other, she had not been... well, pleasurably surprised. She had not ever expected the private parts of a man to look so disgusting and ridiculous. Yet, she had to push aside the thought, now nagging her again, that she might have been more happy moving into some cottage, living a spinster life together with the svelte and charming Mabel from school. "My God, what a woman," she thought again before recomposing.
      "Never mind," she turned towards him, letting her hands cover the most intimate parts of herself. "I'm just dragging it out. I'm savouring the moment, Edward, my love."
      "Oh, Mary!"
      "I love you, Edward!" she said with all the enthusiasm she could muster. She approached the bed again, step by step. "I'm yours, now and forever."
      After all, she had made the promise. She was to be his in sickness and in health, for better and for worse. When her mother had went on about how odd people might think it, when the eleven year old Minnie's hand had been promised to the grown-up Edward, she had been the one to insist, along with Edward, that they were meant for each other. She had made her own bed and had to lie in it, and she had to lie there with Edward, however prone to speaking the truth.
      She got into the expected position and spread her legs, obediently and saintly, as Edward put out the light and climbed on top of her. She reminded herself of the Queen's words: "Close your eyes and think of England." And she let go of her virginity in the bath of blood and the pool of pain required by her new duties.
      Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:18 PM.
      "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


      • Jagged
        A confused voice within
        • Mar 2004
        • 760

        4. Demon

        Edward got out of bed in one of his moods. Minnie was in a bit of a mood herself, nausea and soreness filling her body, but she found the more prudent course of action to be one of cheerfulness. She was realizing that there was no truth whatsoever to the maxim of the more experienced matrons that one gets used to pregnancy.
        "What a lovely weather!" she exclaimed as her husband drew the curtains and bright, golden sunlight filled their bedroom.
        He squinted his eyes. "No, it isn't. If we don't get some rain soon, this year's harvest will fail." He slipped on his robe and made for the door while she was putting one foot on the floor and struggling to get into a sitting position.
        "Edward, my love," she said, "could you help me out of bed, please?"
        He stopped and sent her a brooding glance.
        "Never mind," she said. "I'll manage on my own."
        She did her best to sit upright ever so casually, but her body failed her commands. Edward, brows tightening, took a couple of steps towards her, raising his arm.
        "Don't hit me, Edward!" she cried, covering her head with her arms.
        "Hit you?" he halted and sent her those eyes of denigration. "I'm not going to hit you! Maybe I should, but I'm too soft for my own good. How dare you suggest that I might hit you?"
        He hit her with all his might.
        Letting her nervous system take over, she sobbed, "Yes, Edward. You're far too good for me. I don't deserve a husband like you."
        "But you've got me now, haven't you?" He casually slapped her.
        She over-dramatized. She rolled back on the bed and covered her belly with both hands. Her spasms were not all pulled by necessity, but she had to stop him somehow, before that chaotic control took him over completely. He picked up his leather belt and wrapped the buckle end around his right hand, then slowly approached her. She looked at him with blurry eyes, and suddenly, he seemed to have no face. There was just a white oval thing where his head ought to be.
        "Yes, Edward, my love. You're right. I see it now. You're right! You're right! You're right!"
        "I am, so just remember that." He tightened the knot of his belt. "I'm a tolerant man, but I am still a man. You see that, don't you woman?"
        “Stop it. Please stop it, Edward!”
        She began to sob.
        “My beloved, my beloved, my beloved! You're mine, all mine. Now, feel my love.” He whipped her with his belt and made a casual push forward with his pelvis while pushing her torso onto the bed and her face into the pillow. "You're a whore! You're all whores!"
        "I'm a whore!" she screamed in the hope that he might be satisfied before killing her and his offspring inside her with his calisthenics. He ejaculated and let his lump of a body fall upon hers.
        She was relieved. Her body was still in balance, if only just so. He hadn't made her abort.
        "Edward?" she whispered, "who was that?"
        Groaning, he turned onto his side, his back towards her, and began to snore.
        She felt no need to sleep, herself, and looked down upon the sad lump of meat before her. How pitiful! She let her eyes slide over his body of uncooked bacon as she girdled herself. She had been worrying about Edward for some time. His mood swings had been severe ever since they had been married. When she thought back, even before then. His habit of locking himself into a room for days and rejecting all approach had always been a strain to her.
        What was worse, though, was that she feared that their children might be taking after him. Certainly, Arthur had his glooms already, seeming to inherit his father's vulnerability to the darker powers. She wasn't completely sure if that was due to his blood line or his standing in the shadow of Martin. The elder brother had always been Edward's favourite, for better and for worse. Already at the age of nine, he was entrusted like none of his siblings, but he was also being paced with infinte expectations.
        Martin not only tolerated the many expectations of his father, but celebrated in them. Whatever task put before him by his father, he always satisfied it sooner or later, or at least kept trying to do so. He would do anything to please Edward. When her son could sacrifice himself so, thought Minnie, then so could she.
        But that was a fantasy. She couldn't. At that moment, she realized that she wanted it all to end there. "No more, dear Lord," she whispered. She needed a break, to put it shortly. She knew that many local people would deem her possessed by demons, but she did need that break.
        The next morning, she left her family for an indefinite time to stay at a health spa, possibly later with some friends.
        Maggie asked if Mar didn't love them anymore, while Fred seemed somewhat careless. "Bef luf me," he said, and even if nobody else did, old nurse Beth in the background knew that he was alluding to her. The children were taken by Edward to the train station to see their mother off as custom expected, and she pulled down the window to lean out as the locomotive began huffing and puffing fog, to wave her white handkerchief.
        "I'll be back soon!" she shouted with tears rolling down her cheeks. "I'll be back soon!"
        As nobody can resist the attraction of Hell, she kept her word, and in less than a year, she popped up again in the family's bosom, as soon did a pink little thing with a shrill voice and the name of Hugh.
        Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:19 PM.
        "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


        • Jagged
          A confused voice within
          • Mar 2004
          • 760

          5. An Inexplicable Tragedy

          The death of Martin came as unexpectedly as sadly to all and sundry. Caught by some illness, he expired in bed. At the end, he just babbled and raved, pointing at some entity that nobody else could see.
          Edward, long having not only forsaken his own dabblings into the occult of his youth, but also devoted his life to keeping God's children on a righteous path, was at a loss. Never once before in his life had he questioned any decision of the all-mighty, but this bereavement brought him his first doubt of faith. Certainly the first doubt of faith strong enough to make its way to his consciousness.
          Mary held him to her bosom and did her best to comfort him after the realization that they were never to see the face of their first-born again, never to be proud of his achievements at school again, never to coach and guide him along the right road again. And, as she thought to herself while being anchor that her husband could hold on to in his misery, never to feel his love again.
          "Maybe it's a blessing in disguise," she said somewhat lamely.
          "And pray, how could such an unfair and cruel slaying possibly be a blessing in any way?" He fisted his hand and shook it towards Heaven. "Curse you, God! Curse you!"
          "Edward!" Minnie knew that her husband's gesture was one of desperation and not of his inner feelings, but she also knew that she needed to prevent him from perservering in actions that he would most certainly regret later. "Don't say such a thing. You don't mean it. I don't know why the Lord did this to us, but He works in mysterious ways. Isn't that what you use to tell people in sorrow?"
          "And what do I get for my loyalty? Pain and punishment!" wailed Edward.
          Fighting a fierce urge to throw herself onto the floor in a tantrum like those of her childhood, shaking both fist at everything, and throwing much harder insults at the Lord than her husband, she knew that she had to be strong now, like she had been strong before. All through the 1860'es, she had been constantly in pain and sickness, either carrying the burden of pregnancy or recovering from childbirth.
          "Our other children need us now," she said. "We must muster all our strength to be there for them."
          "Bah! That bunch of never-do-goods? I'd give them all to have Martin back."
          "Edward! You don't mean that!"
          "Oh, I mean it. I mean it like I never meant anything before. Begone, woman! You're the emissary of The Prince of Chaos himself. Leave this room. Begone!"
          As she closed the door to her bedroom from which she had been evicted, she glanced dully around at the whole household hanging on her lips.
          "Is Papa all right?" asked Hugh, her youngest.
          "Not really..." she looked around at the million eyes waiting for the word from her that would restore order on Earth. "But he will be. We will all be all right. We will all... please go to bed, children. Go to bed!"
          "You heard your mother!" said Beth. "To bed with you all."
          If there was one one voice that any soul, parent, child or animal, would listen to, it was Beth's. Even old Frisk with arthritic hind legs and unrelenting mites making his ears smell badly, slunked away.
          Beth put her arms around Minnie. The aging nurse felt warm and somehow created to fit perfectly into Minnie's body. "Oh, Beth..."
          "Sssh, don't say anything." Beth held the back of Minnie's head and waited for her tears to stop flooding.
          Minnie cried. Looking back on the evening later, she had no idea how long she cried, only that it was very long indeed. Finally, she wiped her eyes. "And the guests?"
          "All gone. Except Mrs Mylne who's still waiting in the lounge."
          "Tan?" Minnie began to feel like a burden was taken off her. "Is she still here?"
          "She is, Minnie. She is. You should go down and talk to her."
          Minnie wiped her eyes. "Yes, I should, shouldn't I? But I can't go to see her in this condition."
          "Go and freshen up, and I'll hold her back." The ever efficient Beth walked, in this time when science had, with its constant lack of good taste, finally proved that women were, indeed, in the possession of such unmentionable body parts as legs, down the stairs towards the parlour.
          Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:19 PM.
          "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


          • Jagged
            A confused voice within
            • Mar 2004
            • 760

            6. The Courts of Chaos

            She reached the foot of the staircase and sent a broad smile to the latest arrival.
            Ethel Smyth, even after Mary Benson's initial infatuation with her had waned, stayed a close friend of Archbishop Edward Benson and his family, if mostly his family. Minnie, as Mary was still sometimes called, most often fell for younger women these days, and as Ethel's schwنrms were most often for ladies her senior, their flirt had been a happy one. So much a part of the family had she become that she now acted as a supporting hostess at this first literary salon that Mary was throwing on her own at Lambeth Palace.
            Oscar Wilde had entered with a tired mine and graciously let a servant take care of his cape. Ethel took his arm and introduced him to Arthur Benson. "Yes, I'm sure he's a crappy sort of fellow." Wilde cast his eyes around the room. "Bosie seems quite fond of his brother, so he can't be any good at all."
            "Let me introduce you to the most successful author of our time," said Ethel.
            "I don't like being introduced to myself," said Wilde. "I don't like me very much."
            "I'm sorry. The second most successfull author of our times. Miss Marie Correlli."
            A surly woman with a face somewhat like a bulldog took Wilde's hand that was being forced into hers.
            "I'm afraid that I don't like your pieces very much," Miss Correlli said with her widely famed candour.
            "That's quite all right," said Wilde as he was turning his attention on John Ellingham Brooks. "I'm sure I wouldn't like your work either, if I had read it."
            "Oscar!" Ethel whispered. "She's one of Queen Victoria's favourite authors."
            "I'm sorry." Wilde looked devastated and once again addressed Miss Correlli. "I'm sure I would positively despise your work, had I read it."
            A flamboyant young man looking somewhat self-obsessed was passing by in such a hurry that he was almost pushing the juggernaut of Correlli over. "William Somerset Maugham! isn't it? I've been longing to meet you!"
            A youngster nearby forgot about the elderly man that he was talking to, and whirled around in such haste that he almost spilled his champagne. "Me? Who?... Oh! You must be Baron Corvo."
            "Myself himself," said Corvo.
            "So delighted. Come and meet the old man. Meredith, no less." Maugham emitted an aura of pride, being able to introduce the bearded man that he had just met to somebody, even if his prey looked a bit out of place, interrupted as he was in his conversation with Thomas Hardy.
            Ethel was hanging on the great author's lips, wanting to hear his response to the young dandies, but she also wanted to hang on to Wilde who was trying to move on. "Oscar," she said, "you must want to meet Meredith, too."
            "Ah, Meredith!" Wilde whispered to Ethel. "Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning. Of course, I must want to meet him, but I don't want him to associate me with those cads. Right now, I'm going to talk to Mr James. He's abysmally boring, you know, but not so boring that he deserves being left alone with Benson's conversation." He strolled over to Edward who was telling a story to Henry James. Choosing to let the conversation of the young dandies go, Ethel clung to Wilde's arm that was dragging her along.
            "... ghost of Jack Swallow outside the window vanished one second after she set her eyes on it, at the same moment that Niles let out his final breath in her arms," Edward finished off his story.
            "Papa!" exclaimed Nellie, who was standing in the small circle. "Mr James wouldn't be interested in your nursery tales, surely."
            Her granny agreed. "Don't let my son-in-law give you the wrong impression. We're really not so superstitious here in Europe anymore."
            "No, no," said Mr James who seemed to be drifting away into thought. "Don't denigrate it, Mrs Sidgwick. That is truly interesting. There's the germ of a piece of literature in there, I think..."
            "Tell it again, Benson," said Ethel. "Oscar wants to hear it, too."
            "What do I want to hear?" A rotund little man in the group next to Edward's caught the remark and turned around.
            Ethel laughed. "Not you, Browning. The other Oscar."
            "My name isn't Oscar," said yet another man near them.
            "Robert!" Ethel clapped her hands excitedly. "I hear about your poem for Fitzgerald! It's the talk of town. You must recite it to us."
            "Oh, that," said the Browning that was surely getting the upper hand of the other Oscar in reputation. "Let's not talk about that. I'm embarressed about it now. I should never have written it. So childish of me."
            "But he deserved it!" Ethel cried. "I've never heard of anything so tactless. Fancy writing 'Thank God Mrs Browning is dead; we shall have no more Aurora Leighs.' Doesn't that deserve a bit of mockery?"
            "He really just meant that he didn't like her poetry." The Browning never to have answered to the name of Oscar was beginning to blush, and just wanted the attention on him to go away.
            "I want to hear it, Robert," insisted Ethel. "I'll call upon higher powers to make you recite it if you don't do so willingly."
            "Please..." Browning was looking around for an emergency exit.
            "All right, we could have done this the easy way, but since you don't want to... Mother Benjy! Over here!"
            Ethel really had a penetrating voice when she put her physicality to it, and everybody stopped their conversation to look in her direction. Minnie herself, now used to her new appellation acquired at Wellington College where she had been trying to fit in as the headmaster's wife before Edward had been promoted to the highest of clerical offices, jumped at the command. There was something irresistable about Ethel to everybody.
            "Yes, Ethel?" said Mary as she was moving her voluptious body into the small circle.
            "You must convince this stubborn donkey to let us hear his Fitzgerald poem," said the affronted Ethel. "He absolutely refuses."
            "Why, Robert, of course. It's so mean of him to hold it back!"
            "But we all know it, dear," Mary pointed out. "It's old news."
            "So am I and so are you," said Ethel. "Now, make him recite it, or I'll hold my breath!"
            "Could you indulge her, Robert?" said Mary with her winning smile. "You'll do me a great favour, personally, you know. It can be so hard keeping Ethel occupied, and I need a little conversation without her." She sent her twinkling little glance first to Browning, then to Smyth.
            "Oh... all right..." Robert still wasn't too happy about it but cleared his throat and prepared for his declamation.
            "Oh, Henry, come over here and talk to me in the meantime," Mary asked.
            "All right," said Mr James.
            "All right," said Mary's brother.
            "All right," said William Porter, surprised to be interrupted from his conversation in the next group of people.
            Mary laughed heartily. "Not you, William! Sorry for interrupting." She drew Henry James and her brother Henry aside. That didn't exempt them from scrutiny, so she took them into the hall, down the guest wing with its office-like look, and into one of the guest rooms.
            Henry James glanced around the room. "How essentially European!" he approved, even if the room seemed quite bare to Mary. "I wish we could do anything so tasteful in America."
            "You should talk a bit to my Mother after this," said Minnie -- Mary still became Minnie once again when talk fell upon her mother. "She's also very disparaging of American customs. But for now, I want to talk to you about the ghosts."
            "Ghosts?" said James. "What about them?"
            "We're trying to contact them," said Mary. "Henry is very prominent in The Ghost Society. Oh, do come to one of our seances."
            "It's The Society for Psychical Research now," her brother corrected.
            "Yes. Of course. Sorry, Henry, I know that you've grown since Edward left. But please, Mr James, you should come and weedj with us."
            Mr James was tempted. Mary could tell as much. He was fingering his lips behind that black beard, and considering the offer of joining Henry Sidgwick, one of the most prominent researchers of the occult, in a seance.
            The spirits, however, must have tipped Edward off. He burst into the room, fixing the three persons standing there like naughty pupils. "Mary! What was that you said about 'weedjing'? I heard it!"
            "I'm talking to Mr James and my brother." Mary stated.
            "James. Henry. Will you let me talk to my wife in private for a moment?" said Edward in a voice hinting that he might not take it favourably if thwarted.
            The Henries left the room, and Edward took Minnie to task.
            Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:20 PM.
            "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


            • Jagged
              A confused voice within
              • Mar 2004
              • 760

              7. The Turn of the Shrew

              To lose one child may be regarded as a misfortune, Mary mused, but to lose two begins to look like carelessness. Edward wasn't as devastated as he had been at Martin's death, but she herself would never get used to it.
              With Nellie had died part of the family's spirit. The fun, the joy, the love; all the good things in life had lost ground to the brooders.
              Mary was tired. Tired of duties, tired of formalities, tired of the military discipline that Edward was imposing on them all in the name of the holy order. She was tired of the endless bickering with her husband about every little detail of their days.
              She was going to the seance, no matter what Edward said. Madame Zoyea was the most respected medium in certain circles, and if she could get Mary a last word from, a last glance at, her youngest daughter; not Edward, not the Queen, not God would stop her.
              Of course, she remained confident that God would not want her to, whatever Edward might say. God is Love. Love is God. If there was one thing of which Mary was sure, that was it. God was so much love that He would forgive Edward for all his mistakes; his overly harsh discipline with his children, his bad turns as a teacher and headmaster, his arrogant rejection of any train of thought deviating from his own. Although very expressly forbidden to do so by her husband, she went to "weedj" once again. Whether the ouija board was used or not, Mary's little circle called all seances "weedjing".
              The fog was hanging over London. Thick, heavy, black. Mary let Henry guide her out of the cab. She had never been comfortable with the city and its dirt that was clinging to everything. Had not destiny taken herself there with Edward, she would never have moved into Lambeth, but stayed at Truro. The soot was creeping into everything. Into the creaks of every wall, into her laundry, into her soul.
              Back on solid ground, she let go of her brother's hand and looked at the house. "Are you sure it's the right place?"
              "I'm sure," said Henry and went to pay the coachman.
              It looked common. A terrace of red bricks among terraces of red bricks.
              The clattering of hooves let her know that another cab was approaching, and before her brother had finished his financial transaction, she was shaking hands with Henry James.
              "So good of you to come," said Mary warmly, as if to disperse the cool air of autumn. "You already know my brother, I believe."
              "Indeed," said James and shook hands with Henry Sidgwick before they all went to the front door.
              Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:21 PM.
              "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


              • Jagged
                A confused voice within
                • Mar 2004
                • 760

                8. The Courts of Law

                Solemn was tame word to describe the halls. Ben walked through them undauntedly, if aware of the way they intimidated Fred. At Lambeth Palace, she had become used the pompous ways of people insecure of their coveted power. She had gained respect, not just as the wife of the Archbishop, but also as capable hostess, and even an intelligent woman in her own right.
                "We'll get your friend out," she said to her son.
                "Not so loud," said Fred. "They don't like that."
                "They? Don't be so paranoid, darling. 'They' have to bow to the same laws as we do. ...Oh, look, isn't that judge Jagger over there? I'm sure he'll be sympathetic."
                She pointed to make her son look at the tall and lean if somewhat pale man whose face seemed almost human among the automatons around him, if adorned by a huge, fully-lipped wide mouth.
                "Don't point, ma," said Fred. "He isn't going to preside after all."
                "Whyever not?"
                "I'm not sure. Something about him being incompetent. One of his convicts escaped the gallows, it seems. Just vanished into thin air when he was about to be hanged."
                "At the execution? Surely, that can't be the judge's fault."
                "But there it is. It seems Justice Wills is to take over."
                "Well, whoever is in charge, I'm sure a British court could never condemn anybody just for loving somebody!" said Ben. "The very thought is outrageous."
                They were asked to step aside when officials were bringing Oscar Wilde into the courtroom.
                Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:21 PM.
                "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


                • Jagged
                  A confused voice within
                  • Mar 2004
                  • 760

                  9. A Predictable Comedy

                  She reread the reply from Henry James. He clearly wasn't too impressed with 'Dodo', the novel written by two of her children. By now, Ben wasn't very shocked. Her initial excitement was now tempered. Fred, the darling, had obviously been trying to emulate Oscar Wilde's style, and Maggie had been, as always, humouring Fred. It was a superficial piece, she realized, and she had been raptured by its lightness. She folded the old letter from James, and put it back into her bundle of private letters so that nobody should ever read it again.
                  She admitted to herself that Fred was her favourite. Maggie was becoming ever more difficult, and so was Hugh in his own way. Arthur was just holding back and mourning over the young man he once had been in love with, while complaining about the odd stanzas in the march to which he had been asked to write words by Mr Elgar.
                  The huge commercial success of 'Dodo' was pleasant, though. Even if Fred was right when he said that the novel's success was due to the son of the Archbishop having written such a frivoulous work, she predicted a comfortable future for him. While working on his first serious novel, 'The Rubicon', he was moving lightly and comfortably in the circles of 'hitum' at Lambeth.
                  Edward, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, now had to suffer the indignity of being called 'Dodo's Papa'. Even the Prince Consort had addressed him that way.
                  Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:22 PM.
                  "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


                  • Jagged
                    A confused voice within
                    • Mar 2004
                    • 760

                    10. Angel

                    Edward keeled over during communion. He seemed to watch something, wave feebly at it, and try to say something. Then, he died.
                    His corpse was brought home, and Ben watched over it and grieved. While Edward had not always been easy, he had been the father of her children, and he had always meant well. The demons in the shadows of his mind had been trouble but he had always done his best to fight them.
                    For a moment, she thought she heard Eward whispering to her, in a voice of love and comfort, and so devoid of trouble and conflict that she almost didn't recognize him at first.
                    He smiled. She didn't know how she knew, but he did smile.
                    The Faceless One was with him.
                    "Martin!" she said. "Is that you?"
                    "No," her eldest son said, appearing behind the other visions. "I'm here. I'm going to take care of Papa."
                    Edward and Martin hugged. Then, they took each others' hands and started walking into the light. It was so bright that Ben had to avert her glance. The Faceless One, alone, remained when Ben once again squinted out through her fingers at the chore and choir now leaving.
                    "Who are you?" asked Ben, almost dwarfed back into Minnie by the presence.
                    "Don't you know me? I'm Mabelode. Have you forgotten me?"
                    The colours bursted, all shapes melted, up became down. Ben lost all memories and saw the things at themselves. She didn't know how to put it better, just the things at themselves. She had not forgotten. Of course, she had not.
                    "I hate you," said Ben. Said Mary. Said Minnie. "You're a tyrant, a bully, a spoiled child."
                    The Faceless One made a complete turn. "Am I? Am I? Or am I the source of your life?"
                    Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:22 PM.
                    "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


                    • Jagged
                      A confused voice within
                      • Mar 2004
                      • 760

                      11. A Lovely Day

                      Ben had settled in Tremans with Lucy Tait. It was a lovely house in the Cotswolds, not at all like the busy and superficial Lambeh. The two ladies were regarded highly in the community, and all the locals huffed and puffed with scorn at any suggestion that there was something untoward going on between them. Ben sometimes minnied a bit and fretted about wildean scandals falling upon them, but they never did. It was as if her high status, even if acquired through her husband's carreer, created impunity.
                      Arthur, Fred, and Hugh had come to visit. It was as much a family occasion as could be expected. Maggie had been institutionalized since that day, and didn't show much of an improvement, even if Ben herself, as well as Arthur and Fred, generously spent all they could on her betterment.
                      She brought her sons through the library, past the Arthur shelf, the Fred shelf, and the Hugh shelf, past all their published works, and sat the down in the garden room.
                      "Let's do it differently today," said Ben.
                      Her sons, having prepared reading some recent work brought along, looked at her.
                      "What do you mean?" asked Arthur.
                      "We're always so serious," Ben replied. "You read your works and, frankly, they're becoming a bit predictable. You must know what I think, by now. Why don't the three of you switch voices? What if each of you try to write the next book of one of the others?"
                      The ones and the others all looked dismayed, but Ben knew that her word was now carrying an importance beyond mere logic and knowledge. She now had status, she realized. She was the wise woman.
                      At first, of course, they complained. In the end, of course, they complied. She left them in the garden room to their task, and met Lucy in the hall.
                      Lucy, the daughter of Archibald Tait who had been Archbishop after Howley's time until Edward had taken over, was a woman of striking beauty and youth. Ben had been infatuated with many people, mostly women, but the infatuation with Lucy was different. It didn't pass. She could be just as annoyed, just as impatient, and just as exasperated with Lucy as she had ever been with anybody, but her central magic stayed.
                      In fact, Lucy had only one problem. She could be quite bossy.
                      "You're letting those boys grip your life," said Lucy.
                      "Yes," said Ben. "They're my sons. They're my love. They're my life."
                      Lucy rolled her eyes and went back into the pool room.
                      Mary went back to the garden room to hear what her sons had come up with.
                      Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:23 PM.
                      "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


                      • Jagged
                        A confused voice within
                        • Mar 2004
                        • 760

                        12. The Dark Prince

                        As Ben grew older, the most important people in the world fell away. Queen Victoria, that centre of The World proved mortal long after her husband. Hugh died, and Ben had three children left. Maggie died while in the home, and Ben had two children left. Beth died, and that made Ben think of her own mortality.
                        Old nurse Beth who had been with Ben since she was Mrs Benson at Truro, since she was plain little five year old Minnie, even. Her brother Henry had died, and no serious weedjing session had brought her in contact with him.
                        Tremans remained a busy a busy house, with Ben and Lucy entertaining more company than they cared to. Obligations never lost their grip of Ben. She was The Grand Lady of society. Important people like the Asquiths frequently came to her gatherings, just as Prince Albert, Gladstone, Poet Laureates, and others had used to.
                        “It's your turn to sleep,” said Lucy one night, as Ben had almost fallen asleep in the same same bed that Edward had once considered his, even if he had been evicted from it in favour of Lucy long before his death.
                        “I know,” said Ben, trying to keep focus on Lucy, even if her attention was magnetically focussed on The Faceless one, standing in the corner of her bedroom.
                        She lifted her hand, pointing as best she could in the general direction of the apparition.
                        Right there, in her bedroom, at her death bed, was Satan. None less, none more. Yet, she wasn't frightened. She contemplated him and the white oval shape that he had in place of a head.
                        “You're quite handsome,” she said, “when one gets used to it.”
                        She realized that those words, although she had spoken them, did not pass her lips.
                        “I am. I am.” Mabelode turned around, turned around, turned around.
                        “Why don't you have a face?” The conversation was like some abstract theoretical discussion like the ones she had been used to at Lambeth.
                        “What use is a face?”
                        “The face is your identity.” Ben ignored Lucy's pleadings and tears.
                        “And what use is an identity?”
                        “How else could we recognize you?”
                        Mabelode shrugged. “Why should I care?”
                        “Aren't you answering one question with another?
                        “Aren't you?”
                        Ben tried to free her vision from The Prince of Darkness, the one that Edward had warned her about. The one that Edward had seen, so many years ago, in a crystal bowl. The oval, white nothingness that had scared Edward so much, once in a crystal bowl, that he had made his loved ones' life a Hell on Earth so that they should never see it.
                        Through seven veils, Ben distantly heard Lucy's voice, but knew that she had to let it go.
                        And Ben died.
                        Last edited by Jagged; 09-30-2014, 01:36 PM.
                        "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.


                        • Jagged
                          A confused voice within
                          • Mar 2004
                          • 760

                          13. A Familiar Woman

                          Family. Children.
                          Fred and Arthur.
                          Fibonacci numbers.
                          Taffy, Fred's collie, bites my shoes.
                          Baron Corvo bites the dust.
                          Poor Maggie.
                          I have to write...
                          I have to write...
                          An Ode for Mabel.


                          For exit music, the author suggests

                          The March of the Women
                          by Dame Ethel Smyth

                          "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.