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The Mystery of the White Tulip
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 7:00 pm    Post subject: The Mystery of the White Tulip Reply with quote

Miss Brown purposefully strode up the steps of 54 Riverstreet and reached for the bell. She pulled out her pocket watch. Almost 8 pm. Miss Brown rather liked a little joke. Five, four, three, two, one. As the clocks of Loveton struck eight, she pulled the chord. Miss Brown grinned, she enjoyed being punctual. The door flung open.

"Miss Brown, oh, Miss Brown. Do come quickly! We're all at a loss for what to do!"

"Miss Felice-Lytton, what is wrong? Why aren't you dressed for the ball? Why are you answering the door? Where is Patty?"

Miss Felice-Lytton pulled her friend inside. "This isn't a time for questions! We have to find it!"

"What are you talking about? Stop fidgeting with your hair. Patty? Patty!"

A loud bumping sound came from the parlour. A few seconds later Patty walked into the hallway stroking her head. She bobbed. "You called ma'am?"

"Please see to it that your mistress gets dressed for the ball."

"Ma'am?" Patty looked questioningly at Miss Felice-Lytton.

"Oh, go upstairs Patty, I'll be there in a minute."

"Where is your aunt, Miss Felice-Lytton?"

"She is in the parlour. And in quite a state too."

"What sort of a state? What is going on?"

"Oh Miss Brown, she lost her necklace. She can't go to the ball without her necklace. And if she can't go we can't go. It's terrible!"

"Her necklace..? Oh, do go upstairs and get dressed. I hate being late." Miss Brown felt the familiar tickling sensation of annoyance come over her. She tried very hard not to frown. Miss Felice-Lytton daintily ascended the stairs and disappeared out of sight. Miss Brown straightened her jacket and walked into the parlour. An elderly brunette stood in the middle of the room, looking for something. Miss Brown gave a discreet little cough to announce her presence.

"Rayati Miss Lytton." She reverenced.

"Oh! Young Miss Brown, rayati."

Miss Bette Lytton had a slow, croaking voice. She had spoken only a few word but they gave Miss Brown the uncomfortable feeling she knew where this was going. They were going to be late.

"Miss Felice-Lytton informs me you have lost your necklace, ma'am."

"Yes, that's right."

"And I don't suppose, you would consider going to the ball without it?"

"Oh, no. That wouldn't do at all."

Miss Brown gave a little sigh and looked at the clock. If she could find the necklace and get the ladies dressed within 30 minutes then with the blessing of Dea and the godesses of traffic they might just make it to the ball on time. Miss Brown loved being on time, but as she lived with her blonde cousin and two blonde aunts this very rarely happened to her.

"If I may inquire, Miss Lytton, where do you remember seeing it last?"

"Well....I'm not sure exactly. Now let me think." The elderly brunette eyes glazed over. "Thinking," Miss Brown thought. She looked at her sleeve and noticed a little white speck. Fluff. She brushed it away and sighed, again. This was going take the entire evening. She was sure of it.

Another speck of dust floated down and descended on Miss Brown’s sleeve. She sniffed and reached to brush this little speck off too as she saw yet another one floating down. Her eyes followed its path down. Then she looked up. “Um, Miss Lytton?”

“Hm…yes, dear?”

Miss Brown pointed up at the lamp just above her. “I believe I found your necklace.”

In one of the wrought-iron curls hung a necklace. The pendant consisted of two entwined tulips, a black one and a white one.

“Oh yes, of course. Now I remember. I hung it in the lamp so that it would be in sight in case I would lose it.”

Miss Brown blinked but refrained from commenting.

Miss Lytton took the necklace from the lamp and quickly brushed her finger over the edge. “Hm, no wonder the servants didn’t think of looking here, it seems they never look here. Well, I suppose I had better get dressed now. Please excuse me, Miss Brown.”

“Of course, Miss Lytton.”

Miss Brown glanced at the clock. Yes, thirty minutes and perhaps they would make it in time.

“Yoohoo! Miss Brown!”

“Yes, Miss Felice-Lytton?” Miss Brown walked out into the hallway.

“Miss Brown, darling, what colour are you wearing?”

“Pink”

“Pink? Oh no, why pink? What sort of pink?”

Miss Brown looked down at her frock. “A pale sort of rosy pink.”

“Patty! It’s a pale sort of rosy pink! What do you think? Hm? No, I don’t think so either. Which one? Oh yes, that would be quite charming. Oh, but then I can’t wear my mother’s bracelet, I must wear my mother’s bracelet. Why? Because it simply doesn’t go with the pattern of the fabric.” Miss Felice-Lytton’s voice faded away as she walked back into her dressing room.

Miss Brown made a mental note to ask Miss Felice-Lytton what colour she should be wearing in the future. This was taking far too long. She checked her pocket watch. Yes, late.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miss Brown was about to look at her pocket watch again as Miss Felice-Lytton came rushing down the stairs in a pale violet frock. Miss Brown's heart missed a beat. Her friend looked like an angel. As Miss Felice-Lytton put on her gloves Miss Brown glimpsed a large scar on the blonde's hand. It was the twin of the scar Miss Brown had on her own hand. All her anger and annoyance over being late disappeared. The scar reminded Miss Brown that Miss Felice-Lytton was more than a girl fussing over matching colours and hairdos. Not more than a year ago they had battled a demon, hands and minds pinned together by a knife. The bond that was created then had only grown stronger over the past few months. No one in the city seemed to remember the incident, except for those who had been in the cellar under the clock tower.

"Darling, you are an angel!"

Miss Felice-Lytton looked very pleased.

Miss Brown helped Miss Felice-Lytton into her coat and handed her the hat she pointed out.

"Darling, hang on a moment. I need to… Where are… Oh, here.” Miss Felice-Lytton triumphantly held up the gloves she had found in her coat pocket.

“There is aunt Bette. I think we are ready to leave, Miss Brown."

Miss Brown held out her hand. One of the servants opened the door and together they walked out and stepped into the coach that had been waiting.

--

"Miss Agatha Felice-Lytton and Miss Eliza Brown"

"Miss Bette Lytton"

After they were announced Miss Felice-Lytton walked straight to a group of blondes she knew.

"Darlings! Oh, how good to see you again."

"Miss Felice-Lytton! Such a pleasure. And who is this dashing brunette?"

"Ladies, may I present Miss Brown?"

Miss Brown reverenced. "How do you do?"

"Ooh, Miss Felice-Lytton, do you know who died?"

"No, who?" Miss Felice-Lytton’s eyes lit up and she leaned forward.

"Well, you know Miss Helen of Henrietta of the Heatherholmeses of Merevendra Lane."

Miss Felice-Lytton looked interested. "Yes."

"Well her cousin, you remember, she went to..."

Miss Brown rolled her eyes and surreptitiously looked for a potentially more interesting group to join.

From the corner of her eyes Miss Brown spotted Miss Chantel Werdekinde. She smiled and waved at her friend. "Miss Werdekinde!"

Miss Werdekinde saw Miss Brown approach the group she was in and slowly shook her head as if to say 'no'. Miss Brown did not pick up on this sign. Not being the kind of brunette who notices subtle signs, she did not notice the hand movements Miss Werdekinde made to warn her away.

"Ah, Miss Brown! How nice to see you." And elderly brunette opened the circle to let Miss Brown in. "Miss Himmel here was just about to tell us how painful the operation on her knee was."

"Oh, it was dreadfully painful. You see, what they did was..."

Miss Brown looked at Miss Werdekinde who shrugged." She had tried.

"Oh Miss Brown!"

Miss Brown looked around to see who called. It was Miss Felice-Lytton's aunt Bette. She waved Miss Brown over. Relieved, she reverenced and left the group of complaining ladies to join Miss Lytton.

"Miss Brown, there are a few ladies I should like you to meet." Miss Lytton smiled, took Miss Brown by the shoulder and guided her to a corner where three stern-looking brunettes were sitting at a table. A dashing young brunette with high eyebrows and half closed eyelids, a little lady with a sharp nose supporting spectacles and a strong sturdy military brunette with greying hair.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 9:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Ladies” Miss Lytton spoke softly but despite the sounds of the orchestra and the buzz of people talking, sometimes loudly, the three brunettes were immediately attentive.

“Ladies, I would like to present you Miss Eliza Brown. She is a great friend of my niece Agatha.”

Miss Brown, please meet General Oake. She has fought many a great battle in the North. Miss Brown reverenced deeply. “How do you do, General?”

“A pleasure to meet you Miss Brown.” Her voice was deep and booming. She had not spoken particularly loudly but Miss Brown was certain several dozens of ladies now knew that the General was pleased to meet her. The General looked at Miss Brown. “You are not in the military. Why not? A healthy young thing like yourself.”

“The military is a very noble calling, General.”

“But not yours, I take it.” The General fumbled with the pommel of the sword dangling on her side. Miss Brown noticed she was wearing a ring with the same figure of two tulips that she had seen on Miss Lytton’s necklace. How extraordinary.

Miss Lytton gave the General a little nod and turned towards the little brunette with the sharp features.

“This is Miss Oake, General Oake’s younger sister.”

“How do you do, Miss Oake?”

Miss Oake sniffed and looked as haughty as she possibly could. “How do you do, Miss Black.”

Miss Lytton frowned.

“Er..Miss Brown, excuse me.” Miss Oake sniffed again and looked away as if not in the least interested.

The youngest of the three brunettes slowly stepped forward, swaying her hips excessively. “Miss Brown, how delightful to meet you.” She spoke slowly as if bored. Her voice was light and slightly seductive. The young lady opened her fan and started to slowly wave some air into her face. Her soft brown curls moved with the air she created.

“Miss Brown, may I introduce you to Lady Tessel Ellengard.”

Miss Brown reverenced once again. As she bowed her eye fell on a pretty little silver broche. It had the same two tulips set into it she had seen the General and Miss Lytton wear.

“Ah, I see you noticed my broche.” Lady Tessel caressed her jewel with her small hand. “Do you like it? It is not very fashionable, I fear, but I am quite attached to it.”

“It is a very elegant, piece, Lady Tessel. I like it very much.”

Lady Tessel chuckled. “Splendid.”

Lady Tessel’s laugh made Miss Brown slightly nervous. She wondered at the unusual selection of ladies she was being introduced to. She had seen the General and Lady Tessel before but she had not known they were friends of Miss Felice-Lytton’s aunt Bette. The General had turned her attention to Miss Lytton. The elderly brunette looked frail and insignificant beside the strong figure of the General. She noticed Miss Oake inspecting her, smiling dreamily. But as soon as she saw Miss Brown looking in her direction her face regained its sour expression and she looked away quickly, sniffing and pushing her spectacles up with her finger. IMiss Brown raised her eyebrows. Miss Oake wore the same ring as her elder sister. It must have been quite the thing to wear once. Remarkable.

“Yoohoo! Miss Brown!” Miss Felice-Lytton moved her little figure through the crowds as if it was not feat at all. “Miss Brown! I ought to report you to the District Governess. You have wronged me terribly.” Miss Felice-Lytton’s eye’s twinkled as she tried to look severe.

“Dear Miss Felice-Lytton. Please, I beg your forgiveness for wronging you so grievously. I assume my crime is not having asked you to dance yet.”

“Quite so.”

“Allow me to correct this insanity. There is no one I would adore dancing with as much as you. Will you honour me, dear Miss Felice-Lytton?”

“Why, Miss Brown, nothing would delight me more.”

Miss Brown turned her attention to the ladies she had been introduced to. Lady Tessel had been observing her with an amused smile. She obviously approved of Miss Brown.

“Lady Tessel, General Oake, Miss Oake, it was an honour to make your acquaintance. Honoured ladies, will you please excuse me?”

Miss Lytton gave Miss Brown a short nod. With that sign of permission Miss Brown led Miss Felice-Lytton to the dance floor.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The creaking of her bedroom door woke Miss Brown up. "Madge is that you? Is it morning already? It's still...." Miss Brown shrieked as several bodies jumped her. One put her hand over Miss Brown's mouth and held her arms to her body, another grabbed her legs.

"Hush hush." A dark voice whispered in her ear.

A third person came from the side and blindfolded her. Miss Brown struggled and managed to free her legs. She kicked them about furiously.

"Ouch!"

"Be silent, silly woman."

"She kicked me!"

"Go and help her."

Miss Brown felt two sets of arms grabbing her legs and binding them together. She tried to scream but the big hand was still covering her mouth. She tried to focus her strength on freeing her arms.

"Aha. I was not mistaken. You are strong. I like that." The dark voice chuckled. "Hand me that rope, please. Help me with this minx. She’s a fighter."

Recognition tingled in the back of Miss Brown's mind. As her arms were tied behind her back she tried to match the voice with a name or a face or anything. Suddenly the hand let go of her mouth and Miss Brown was hoisted up over someone’s shoulders. She shrieked.

“Madge! Madge!”

Someone sighed.

A lighter voice spoke. “Better gag her, darling. She’s going to wake up the entire neighbourhood.”

A wad of cloth was pushed into Miss Brown’s mouth.

Madge must have heard me. Why is the house so silent? Miss Brown felt panic rise up to her throat. What if they had hurt her cousin, her aunts?

The thought of something happening to her family gave Miss Brown new energy. With all her strength she tried to free herself from her abductress’s hold.

“For goodness sake, we’d better hurry.”

Miss Brown was carried out of her house and pushed into a carriage. One of the villains knocked on the little window and the driver took off.

“Don’t worry Miss Brown.” The dark voice said. “We’re only after you.”

Miss Brown wanted to give this person a piece of her mind but the cloth prevented her from making any sound apart from a muffled groan. It was warm in the carriage. Miss Brown could clearly smell the perfume of the person beside her. It was heavy and a little sweet. Her three abductresses were breathing heavily. At least she gave them a good fight.

Suddenly the carriage stopped. The three stepped out of the carriage and the doors were slammed shut. Then one opened again. A hand reached in and pinched her thigh hard. Then the door shut again. She heard footsteps quickly pacing away from the carriage.

What now? Are they gone?

Miss Brown’s heartbeat pounded in her ears. She needed to get out. She breathed in as much air as she could and blew the wad of cloth out of her mouth. For a moment she considered screaming but she didn’t know how far away her abductresses were. She decided to free herself and be ready for them should they return.

She let her fingers examine the ropes holding her wrists together. The knot was tied on the side between her back and the top of her hands. There was no way she was going to reach that knot with her fingers. Miss Brown sighed.

“What to do?”
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was very warm inside the carriage. If only she could see. Perhaps there’d be something here that could help her. She bent backwards and moved her fingers over the seat. Velvet. There was nothing. She moved over to the other side but found nothing out of the ordinary there.

“An empty carriage. A regular empty carriage.”

Miss Brown hated breaking things but it seemed to her there was nothing else she could do. She was going to have to break down the door. She lay down on her back and raised her legs. She was all ready to kick the carriage door when it suddenly opened. A breath of fresh night air came in.

“’scuse me ma’am. My mistress asks need you any help?”

Relief waved through Miss Brown’s body.

“Yes! Yes! Oh thank Dea yes! Untie me please.”

“Sorry ma’am. Can’t do that ma’am. My mistress asks how many strokes for a knife.”

“What? What are you talking about? Untie me!”

“Mistress asks how many strokes of the cane for a knife.”

“Are you insane? I’ve been abducted. Help me!”

“My mistress suggests ten, ma’am.”

“Ten? What are you… For goodness sake! Ten! Just help me!”

“Ten, ma’am. Yes ma’am.”

Miss Brown heard something drop on the carriage floor and the door closed again.

“What in the name of…?”

Miss Brown was confused. She dropped on her knees and bent backward searching the floor for the knife. Her hands searched every inch of the sandy floor behind her but she couldn’t find it.

“Where is it? I heard it fall.”

When she was about to despair the door opened again.

“Ma’am, mistress asks….”

“Who are you? Why are you not helping me? Is this some kind of game? Untie me!”

“Mistress asks what the problem is.”

“Problem? Problem?” Miss Brown wondered if she had gone insane. “The problem is that I am tied up and blindfolded in some carriage in my nightgown and some idiot girl keeps coming in to talk instead of HELP ME.”

“Mistress says five for the blindfold.”

“Oh well, why not.” Miss Brown’s voice trembled with rage. “It is not as if you are going to help me like any child of Dea would.”

The door on the other side of the carriage opened as the girl Miss Brown had spoken to closed hers. Someone quickly grabbed the blindfold from her head and slammed the door shut.

For a moment Miss Brown thought she had gone blind but slowly her eyes adjusted to the dark. It was still night. Quickly she looked around. No knife. She got up from the floor and sat on the bench. From under the folds of her nightgown the knife appeared. Miss Brown heaved a sigh of relief. She had been sitting on it. She got back onto the floor and grabbed the knife. It didn’t take her long to cut through the ropes and free her arms. Her wrists were slightly swollen and bruised. She cut her legs free and quickly stepped out of the carriage. She looked around for any one rushing at her to tie her up again. She was ready this time.

There was a lady across the street. Apparently casually passing by. She glanced in Miss Brown’s direction.

“Miss Brown? Oh Miss Brown is that you?”

Miss Brown recognised one of the ladies Miss Lytton had introduced her to. The general’s sister, Miss Oake.

“Goodness, girl. What happened to you? Look at you! In the middle of the night in the street in your night gown with no shoes on and no hat! Come dear. Come with me.”

Miss Oake took off her cloak and put it over Miss Brown’s shoulders. Miss Brown relaxed a little and suddenly realised her situation. She started to shiver. She was cold. Miss Oake ushered her up the steps into a grand building she didn’t recognise.

“Come in, dear. It’s warm inside.”
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 7:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A great wooden door opened and Miss Brown stepped into the hallway. It was lit with candles making a path leading up to an arched door flanked by two sets of stairs. Behind her the door closed. She looked behind. Miss Oake was gone.

“This must be some kind of joke.”

Miss Brown shivered and pulled the cloak closer around her. She followed the path of candles to the door opposite the one she had come in through. As she reached for the door handle she felt warmth coming from under the door, streaming past her bare feet. Before she was able to touch the handle the door opened. Miss Brown took a step back as she found at least fifty pairs of eyes staring at her in silence.

"Miss Eliza Brown" a voice boomed through the hall. "Step forward."

Miss Brown was suddenly very aware of the state she was in. She looked down at her grimy bare feet and curled her toes. Her white nightgown was covered in dark stains, and the hem was black with filth, looking as though it had been dragged across a wet street. She had broken three fingernails searching for the knife on the floor of the carriage. Her long dark hair hung in an untidy braid over her shoulder. Miss Brown felt ready to cry. She had never appeared in public in such a state. She had never been in such a state.

The hall was filled with brunettes staring at her in silence. Their faces were cold. Besides a few candles the only light came from a fire in a grand fireplace. Miss Brown's gaze fixed on an enormous painting hanging over it. She recognised the image. Why would anyone want such an enormous painting of a black and a white tulip entwined? Paintings of flowers should not be much larger than life size, Miss Brown felt.

"Step forward." The voice came from a dark cloaked figure standing in front of the fireplace. Silent eyes followed her as Miss Brown stepped forward. Beside the cloaked figure stood an elderly brunette behind a lectrum holding a big book. Her white hair was tied back in a severe bun. Watching as Miss Brown approach she mumbled, her fingers playing with a quill. As Miss Brown came to a halt the elderly brunette energetically scribbled something into the book. She whispered under her breath, "Thunder rolled through the great hall as the girl hesitantly approached the Magestra."

Thunder? Miss Brown wondered. She had heard no thunder.

Miss Brown reverenced.

"Fear overcame the girl at the sight of the Magestra and she fell to her knees." the elderly lady whispered.

Miss Brown looked up. "I didn't fall to my knees."

The elderly lady stopped writing. Without taking her eyes off the book she said: "Well, maybe you should."

Miss Brown looked around. The faces were still cold. This was not a joke. Isn't that Miss Wicker the head librarian? Slowly she got down on her knees. The cloaked figure took a step forward forcing Miss Brown to look either up, craning her neck back, or down in apparent humility. Miss Brown looked down.

"Miss Eliza Brown," the voice boomed, "you have been chosen to join the Black Tulip Society."

"Oh!" Miss Brown clasped her hand over her mouth. That is what this was about: a secret society. Miss Brown snorted. Relief and the sudden realisation of the silliness of her current state caused Miss Brown to gasp with silent laughter. She clamped her hands more tightly over her mouth, hiccoughing and gulping. Laughing really wouldn't do now, she scolded herself, but her shoulders heaved and tears welled up in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. The elderly lady dipped her quill into the ink and scribbled.

"As the girl realised the honour bestowed upon her, tears welled up in her eyes. She took the hem of the Grand Judge's cloak and kissed it, thanking her from the bottom of her soul."

Oh Eliza, control yourself.

"Took the hem of the Magestra’s cloak and kissed it, thanking her from the bottom of her soul," the scribe repeated with some emphasis.

"Oh yes, excuse me." Miss Brown took the hem of the dark cloak and bowed her head over it." Thank you for this great honour. It is more than I ever expected," she managed in a choked voice.

The Magestra stepped back. "You have shown great courage and fought well this night. However..." Her voice became quieter. "However, there is a debt."

Miss Brown looked up, puzzled. "A debt?"

"You have accepted help and a bargain was made."

Miss Brown paled as the significance of the Magestra’s words became clear.

"The girl paled and waited for the number to be announced," the scribe whispered.

From the audience a lady stepped forward. Miss Brown recognised General Oake. She walked up to the cloaked figure and whispered. "Fifteen."

Miss Brown's hands started shaking.

"Fifteen," the Grand Judge announced.

As one, the ladies in the hall breathed in. The elderly scribe stopped writing and looked up at the Magestra. "I'm sorry, I think I missed that. Nine?"

"Fifteen."

"Oh, right. I wasn't certain I..." the scribe muttered and continued writing.

Miss Brown glanced at the general's arms and trembled. She looked awfully strong. The military brunette chuckled as she noticed the direction of girl's gaze. "I'm sorry, Miss Brown. I would have loved to but you are not that lucky.”

From behind her, Miss Brown heard the clicking of heels on the slate floor. She turned her head and saw Lady Tessel approaching leisurely, hips swaying. She came to a halt beside the still-kneeling Miss Brown. The general nodded and walked back into the audience. Lady Tessel reverenced deeply for the Magestra who acknowledged her with a short nod and stepped back. Lady Tessel turned her amused attention to Miss Brown.

"Miss Brown." She slowly circled the girl and came to a stop facing her. "Eliza." She bent down and touched Miss Brown's face. "How nice to see you again."

Miss Brown heard the elderly brunette mutter and scratch with her quill but could not make out the mumbled words. Lady Tessel bent down further, further than she ought to with the revealing cut of her bodice, and took Miss Brown's trembling hand. "I believe we have a bill to settle. Fifteen, if I am not mistaken." She laughed softly. "Am I mistaken?"

Miss Brown tried to calm her breathing but could not prevent her voice from quivering as she spoke. "No, Lady Tessel. You are not mistaken."

"Come." Lady Tessel pulled Miss Brown to her feet and looked into her eyes. "You are scared." She smiled and turned. "Good."

As she turned, the crowd parted for her. Lady Tessel drew Miss Brown by the hand through the throng and moved toward a door which was opened by a maid at their approach.

Led by Lady Tessel Miss Brown stepped into the room. A shiver ran down her spine as she heard the door lock behind her.

Oh dear.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

After the ordeal Miss Brown was bathed and dressed.

"Now!" Lady Tessel spoke. "It is time for you to meet the other ladies." She took Miss Brown's hand and pulled her to her feet. "Follow me."

With great strides she stepped to the door and unlocked it. As she opened it they were welcomed into the hall with a great applause. Lady Tessel beamed at Miss Brown and bowed theatrically.

General Oake stepped forward and put her hands on Miss Brown's shoulders and gave a little squeeze . "Dear girl, welcome to the society of the Black Tulip. What an entrance. What an entrance! One to be remembered! I am certain you will feel right at home here."

Miss Brown curtseyed. "Thank you, General."

"'t is a pity you are not in the service. We could use your kind. Well, Miss Brown. I think there are many ladies here looking forward to meeting you. Before I let you go you must tell me if there is anything I can do for you."

"Thank you General, I do not think there is... Well, actually, I was wondering. The society of the Black Tulip. I must admit I had not heard of it. I would very much like to know what it stands for. What do the members do?"

The general laughed. "That is a very interesting question, Miss Brown. I do not believe anyone here remembers what the society is for. If it ever served a purpose other than getting away from home to drink brandy and smoke cigars with fellow brunettes I dare say you shall have a difficult time finding out what it was. Isn't that so, Prudence? Prudence!" General Oake beckoned her sister to join them.

"Prudence, do tell Miss Brown what our society is about."

Miss Oake sniffed. "It is a place where brunettes come together to share ideas and discuss matters such a politics and religion."

The General's laugh boomed through the hall. "Well, yes. I suppose it is for some. Dear Prue, how you make me laugh."

Miss Oake gave Miss Brown a short smile. "Welcome, Miss Brown. If you are ever interested in the more serious side of this society you may come and see me. I will be happy to introduce you to a few of our worthier members." With a foul look for her elder sister Miss Oake turned around and walked away.

"Don't mind her, Miss Brown. Would you care for a cigar? No? A glass of brandy then? That's my girl."

Lady Tessel patted Miss Brown's back. "Enjoy the night, while it lasts. When you are ready to leave just tell one of the servants. There is a coach ready for you." Miss Brown nodded in acknowledgment. "Thank you, Lady Tessel."

"It was an honour, Miss Brown." With those words Lady Tessel walked away and disappeared into the crowd of brunettes that had gathered around Miss Brown, eager to welcome her.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2009 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miss Brown stood up as she saw Miss Felice-Lytton enter the tea room.

"Oh oh! Darling! Don't get up! Sit, sit!" Miss Felice-Lytton waved her hands ordering Miss Brown to remain seated.

"I'm already up." Miss Brown kissed the hand Miss Felice-Lytton held out. "Rayati, darling."

"Rayati, poor darling." Miss Felice-Lytton looked worried as Miss Brown carefully sat back down.

"I must say you bear it really well."

"Bear what well? What are you talking about?"

Miss Felice-Lytton gave her friend a cheeky smile. "Don't play games with me, Miss Brown. You know very well what I am talking about."

Miss Brown raised her eyebrows.

"Oh come. I know it's a secret, darling. Do not worry. Not a word shall pass my lips. About the society." Miss Felice-Lytton tugged off her gloves, looking complacent.

"About the society." Miss Brown shifted uncomfortably.

"Yes, and it's...er...practices."

"What shall I order for you, Miss Felice-Lytton?"

"Poor Miss Brown, you are still all shaken." Miss Felice-Lytton shook her head. "Rose tea and scones, darling. I always have rose tea and scones. You know that. We never order here. We sit down and then Sarah brings Lady Grey for you and rose tea and scones for me. Then I give you my scones because I don't have much of a sweet tooth and you do. We always have tea that way. It has been like that for ages. Here comes Sarah now. See?"

As the servent placed the various pots and cups and the plate of scones on the table, Miss Felice-Lytton took her friend's hand and patted it.

"You do forgive me, don't you?"

"Forgive you?"

"For not telling you."

"Telling me... What? You knew this would happen?"

"Why yes."

"And you didn't tell me!"

"No, I didn't."

"You knew I was going to be abducted and caned and you didn't tell me?"

"Hush darling. There there. No need to raise your voice." Miss Felice-Lytton picked up her cup, raised it to her lips and sipped.

"It was a test. It wouldn't be fair to tell you about it beforehand." She shifted the plate of scones towards Miss Brown. "Here, darling. Have a scone."

Miss Brown sat back and nibbled on one of the scones Miss Felice-Lytton had offered her. She knew her friend was right but still felt wronged.

“Oh Miss Brown, do stop pouting.”

“I’m not pouting.”

Miss Felice-Lytton smiled. “All right, darling.”

At that moment Sarah appeared at their table holding out a silver plate with a letter on it to Miss Brown. Looking slightly surprised Miss Brown took the letter and opened it.

“Well, what is it?” Miss Felice-Lytton inquired, leaning forward to peer curiously at the document Miss Brown was reading.

“It seems my presence is required at the club. At once.”

“Oh, how dull.” Miss Felice-Lytton sighed, leaning back. “I suppose you had better go. I do not believe they are very tolerant of tardiness and right now you cannot afford to be disciplined. More.”

Miss Brown quickly got up and took Miss Felice-Lytton’s hand. “You will forgive me?”

“Of course, Miss Brown.”

The brunette reverenced and quickly strode out leaving Miss Felice-Lytton quietly sipping her tea.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“What could it mean?”

“It’s blasphemous!”

“Well, I wouldn’t say blasphemous but curious indeed.”

“We’ve been tricked!”

“Calm down ladies. I’m sure there is some logical explanation.”

“I say it’s magic.”

“There was a troupe of Estrenne acrobats in the city not a fortnight ago.”

“Let’s not point fingers.”

Miss Brown stepped into the hall of the Black Tulip society where several brunettes stood waving about their arms and looking up at the painting above the fire.

“Ah! Miss Brown!” The General’s voice boomed through the hall. “We are so glad you are here.”

“Thank you, general.” Miss Brown reverenced. “Rayati”

“Just look at this! Look at it, Miss Brown!” Miss Oake pulled Miss Brown closer to the picture. “See?”

Miss Brown looked up. There it was. The painting of the black and the white tulip entwined. The image that was represented on her own brooch. Only it was different.

“How extraordinary.”

“It’s blasphemous!” Miss Oake squeaked as she pushed her spectacles back up from the tip of her nose.

The white tulip on the painting seemed to be wilting. It’s head hung low and several petals had fallen.

“I wouldn’t say blasphemous.” A lady stepped forward who Miss Brown recognized as the scribe who had been present at her initiation.

“Miss Brown,” said the General, “I do not believe you have been formally introduced to our scribe. Miss Lavendar, may I introduce Miss Eliza Brown, our newest member.”

“A delight, Miss Brown. It is good you are here.”

“I am honoured, Miss Lavendar.”

Miss Lavendar smiled. “Look at our painting. The white tulip has wilted. Nothing like this has happened in the history of the society. We don’t know what it means. We don’t know how it happened.”

“It’s blasphemy!” Miss Oake squealed again, her face quite red.

“Oh, stop it Prudence,” the General said. “We don’t know what it is. Continue, Miss Lavendar.”

Miss Oake sniffed and crossed her arms.

“The strange thing, Miss Brown, is the white tulip itself.” Miss Lavendar pointed at the flower in the painting. “Our society is called the Society of the Black Tulip, yet on this painting and on each of our jewellery pieces you find a black and a white tulip entwined.”

Miss Brown nodded.

“We don’t know why the white tulip is there. Now, all of a sudden the white tulip on our painting has wilted. We do not know what it means, but we do know it is significant. Have you ever seen a painted flower wilt?”

“No, ma’am, I haven't.”

“There is good news too, Miss Brown.” The General slapped Miss Brown on her shoulder. “You are a lucky pette.”

Miss Brown looked puzzled.

“Tell her, Miss Lavendar.”

“The society rules say that it is the youngest member’s duty to accept any quest that presents itself.”

Miss Brown paled.

“It is a very old rule and truth be told it has been a very long time since a member was asked to go on a quest.”

“How long ago?” Miss Brown asked.

Miss Lavendar’s face became quite serious. “It was during the last attack on the Royal Tower of Thinkonee. One of our Black Tulips had been captured. The youngest member was sent to rescue her.”

"But that was hundreds of years ago!"

Miss Lavendar nodded. "Yes, if not thousands."

“What happened to her?”

“Well.” Miss Lavendar hesitated. “We do not know. The records only state that she left. They do not mention her return.”

The General stepped forward. “Oh come, Miss Brown. Do not worry. You are not a Service pette but I am certain you will do fine. In fact I think you will do splendid.”

“There is no battle.” Miss Oake pointed out.

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“We do not know. This is your quest, Miss Brown.”

The General laughed. “You lucky girl. This calls for a brandy. You don’t smoke, do you?”

Miss Brown tried not to moan too loudly.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 4:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A short while later Miss Brown stomped into the hallway of her home. She jammed her umbrella in its stand and tossed her gloves in the direction of the little table by the coat rack. Fuming she entered the drawing room where she found her cousin Abigail Cheekwood playing cards with Miss Felice-Lytton. Stiff as a plank and her face like thunder Miss Brown stood there for a while and then walked out again without saying a word, leaving the two blondes behind looking at each other in wonder.

“I suppose I had better…”

Miss Cheekwood nodded at Miss Felice-Lytton. “Yes, I think you’d better.”

Miss Felice-Lytton got up and quietly followed Miss Brown who had walked out into the garden. She found her friend pacing to and fro muttering under her breath. The sun was going down and the birds were singing their evening songs. The scent of the flowering jasmine wafted towards her on the light breeze. She crossed her arms and observed her friend.

“So! I take it you are upset.”

Miss Brown kept pacing up and down. “Oh no. Nonono. Upset does not begin to describe it.”

“What, may I inquire, would have you stomping around the house like a mascul? What could be so bad that you do not even greet your cousin, or me.”

Miss Brown looked up. She walked over to her friend and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Oh Miss Felice-Lytton. Why does the world always seem to treat me this way? Why can’t I just lead a calm and happy life?”

“Darling!” The look in Miss Brown’s eyes worried the blonde.

“Come and sit with me. Tell me what happened. Have they beaten you again?” Miss Felice-Lytton sat down in the garden swing and patted on the seat beside her.

Without paying much attention to her friend Miss Brown continued pacing. “No, they have not beaten me again. It’s much much worse!”

“Then what? Tell me, Miss Brown! Don’t be mean to me! I can barely contain my curiosity.”

Miss Brown stopped and looked into Miss Felice-Lytton’s eyes.

“I’ve been sent on a quest.”

“Quest? What sort of quest? The Society of the Black Tulip doesn’t send pettes on quests!”

“They do, apparently. But only every thousand years or so. How do you know they don’t send pettes on quests?”

“Blondes just know things. Never mind, Miss Brown. Tell me what happened. Are you in very grave danger?”

Miss Brown sat down in the swing and told Miss Felice-Lytton the story.

“Oh but that is wonderful!” Miss Felice-Lytton exclaimed.

“No, it isn’t. It is terrible.” Miss Brown sighed. “I have no idea what to do. The society scribe doesn’t even know what the white tulip means. How am I supposed to find out? And how should I know how it came to wilt on a painting?”

Miss Felice-Lytton frowned and rubbed her pretty little index finger over her chin. “Hm…I may just…”

Miss Brown leaned forward. “May just what?”

Miss Felice-Lytton patted Miss Brown’s knee. “Meet me at the society tomorrow at noon. I think I can help you. Darling, how about some tea? Let us go inside. Your cousin was winning the card game we were playing. I do hope she has forgotten about it. Will you please distract her while I reshuffle the cards?”

“Miss Felice-Lytton!”

“What, darling. It isn’t cheating or anything horrid like that.”

“Yes it is.”

“Remind me never to play with you, Miss Brown. You have no sense for card games. I can tell.”
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PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 2:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the afternoon of the following day Miss Brown stood waiting on the steps to the Society when the clock struck noon. She looked up at the sky and decided that it was a miserable day. Heavy grey clouds hung low over Loveton, promising rains. The air was thick and humid.

“Yoohoo! Miss Brown!” Miss Felice-Lytton came clattering up the steps waving her furled umbrella. Following her was a brunette in her forties wearing a plain black silk moiré dress with jet buttons--and the strangest hat Miss Brown had ever seen. It was an enormous black creation topped with a froth of feathers in spectacular colours. Miss Brown wondered how it was possible anyone would choose to put something like that on her head. She could not think of a single milliner who would even consider making such a thing. She sniffed.

“Miss Brown! Rayati! How good to see you. Please permit me to introduce Miss Fortuna Button, psychic extraordinaire.” Miss Felice-Lytton gestured dramatically with her umbrella, narrowly missing Miss Button’s huge hat.

Miss Brown bowed slightly. “Rayati, Miss Button. It is a pleasure to meet you. You are a….” She raised her eyebrows at Miss Felice-Lytton. “A psychic?”

“Yes! Isn’t it wonderful?” Miss Felice-Lytton shone with excitement. She clasped her gloved hands together under her chin, allowing the useless little umbrella to dangle from its wrist strap.

The brunette bowed, setting the feathers on the hat waving. “Please call me Miss Fortuna. I am a spiritualist, actually. A medium if you like. I am pleased to make your acquaintance Miss Brown. Young Miss Felice-Lytton told me about the painting. A curious situation.” Her voice was light and a little airy. Miss Brown had the impression she tried to make herself sound ethereal.

“Oh Miss Brown, Miss Fortuna is the talk of the town. The most splendid things have happened at her circles. Ghosts come to make bumping sounds and the table moves all by itself!”

“You have been to one of these circles?”

Miss Felice-Lytton leaned forward and put her hand on Miss Brown’s forearm, gripping it tightly for emphasis. “Oh yes! Helen Heatherholmes wanted to contact her cousin. You know Helen Heatherholmes of Merevendra Lane. Her cousin died not too long ago. Everyone knows she had inherited the most beautiful diamonds from her mother but they have gone missing. Miss Heatherholmes thought that Miss Fortuna could help her contact her cousin so she could ask where the diamonds are.” She released the brunette’s arm and leaned back with a satisfied little nod.

“And, did they find the diamonds?”

“Well no, but I saw ectoplasm!” Miss Felice-Lytton hopped from one foot to another, ignoring Miss Brown’s glower. “It was splendid!”

“Ectoplasm? Who ever heard of such a thing. Miss Felice-Lytton, you are telling me stories.” Really, one should never let blondes out on their own. The ridiculous things they got up to when one didn’t monitor them constantly.

“No, Miss Brown. I really saw it! It was green and gooey and it glowed in the dark. It is what ghosts are made of.”

Miss Fortuna stepped forward. “Actually, Miss Felice-Lytton, ghosts are not made of ectoplasm.”

“Are they not?”

“No, they dress themselves in ectoplasm. You see, ghosts are invisible. They need this substance to show themselves to us mere mortals. A medium can make this ectoplasm. A green mucous will come oozing out of the medium’s orifices and--”

Miss Brown coughed loudly. “Right, I think I understand. Shall we go inside and look at the painting, Miss Button? That is what we are here for, after all.”

“Yes, let us go in.” Miss Felice-Lytton walked towards the door.

“Miss Felice-Lytton, this is a brunette’s club.” Miss Brown said, horrified.

“Yes, I am aware of that. Now be a good brunette and open the door for me.”

“I’m not sure if …”

Miss Felice-Lytton shot a hot look at Miss Brown who promptly held the door for her blonde friend.

“The painting is right through that door, in the grand hall,” she said resignedly.

In the foyer, Miss Felice-Lytton paused and looked around admiringly. She pretended not to see the disapproving looks of the brunettes coming down the stairs or of the brunette maids with their dusters running out of sight as they approached. “It really is a delightful place, Miss Brown.”

Miss Brown tensed. She could not help thinking back to when she had seen the place for the first time. “Yes, it is very comfortable. Please follow me into the grand hall, ladies. The painting is over the fireplace.” She took the two ladies firmly by their elbows and walked them into the great hall.

The plumes on Miss Fortuna’s hat bobbed with each step she took. Miss Brown wondered if they were coloured ostrich tail feathers. The hat reminded her of an ostrich. Miss Brown concealed a smile. Miss Felice-Lytton had the strangest acquaintances. It was a well-known fact that young blondes often fell for the charms of fraudulent conjurers and magicians.

Miss Fortuna suddenly stopped short. She was trembling.

“ Oh Miss Fortuna!” Miss Felice-Lytton cried out. “What is the matter?”

Instantly Miss Brown looked around to find whatever it was that had scared Miss Fortuna. The hall was empty.

“ Dear Miss Fortuna, tell us what is wrong.” Miss Felice-Lytton moved closer and patted the spiritualist’s hand.

After a few deep breaths and a fluttering of hands Miss Fortuna came to herself. Holding her hand to her heart she said “Oh my!”

“Oh Miss Brown! I think Miss Fortuna sensed something.” Miss Felice-Lytton stared at the medium with big eyes. “Do tell us what you sensed, Miss Fortuna.”

Miss Brown frowned as the psychic whispered: “It is the painting, my dear.” She pointed her shaking finger at the enormous painting of the black and the wilting white tulip. “I see grave danger.”

Miss Felice-Lytton’s eyes grew even bigger. “What kind of danger?”

“Grrrave danger, my dear,” the brunette trilled theatrically.

Miss Brown sniffed. Yes, an obvious fraud. They were wasting their time with this oddly-attired creature.

“I can’t tell you girls more unless we have a séance. My spirit guide knows much more than I do. We must contact her.”

“Your spirit guide?” Miss Brown sighed. She rolled her eyes.

Miss Felice-Lytton caught her expression and said exasperatedly “Yes darling. Miss Fortuna always speaks to her spirit guide. Her name is Miss Katie Fox, and she used to be a great medium herself.”

"Used to be?”

“Yes, before she died. Isn’t that so, Miss Fortuna?”

Miss Fortuna nodded gravely, still clutching her hand over her bosom.

Miss Felice-Lytton grabbed her friend’s hands. “Oh Miss Brown, this is so wonderful! I am glad you told me about this mystery, darling. You would have been lost without me. Now, for a séance we need a little round table and some chairs. Could you ask one of the servants?”

“We also need a fourth person,” Miss Fortuna said quickly. “Could you find a fourth, Miss Brown? Preferably someone with a Talent.” The word was obviously capitalized.

“A Talent,” Miss Brown said in wondering disbelief. “Of course.” She reverenced, turned and walked out of the hall and into the foyer, shaking her head in amazement. She looked around for someone to join the séance and decided that she would grab the first pette she saw, Talent or no Talent.

“Ah! Miss Brown! Have you come to join the philosophy group?”

Miss Brown spun around to see Miss Oake coming down the stairs. She smiled with satisfaction.

“Miss Oake! Just the lady I was looking for!”

Miss Oake looked pleased as she pushed her glasses back onto her nose.

“You could not have found me at a better moment. I need your help.”

Miss Oake beamed at this unusual solicitation. “Of course I’ll help you, my dear. What is the problem? Have you any life questions? Do you need religious support?”

“Yes! Religious support of a kind, I suppose. Possibly.” Miss Brown equivocated as she ushered Miss Oake into the grand hall. “You see, I have a psychic in here.”

“A psychic! Oh dear, Miss Brown, I really have no idea about anything paranormal. It’s not something a decent lady would…” Miss Oake turned around with the intention to leave.

“Miss Oake! How lovely to see you!” Miss Fortuna walked towards Miss Oake holding out her hand. “Miss Brown, you could not have found a better fourth to complete our circle. I am so glad you are here, Miss Oake. It is difficult to find anyone with Talent these days but during our last meeting you proved to have more than enough of it. You must make up our fourth.”

Miss Oake coloured as she saw Miss Brown’s questioning look. “Well er…yes, I attended a circle once.”

“Oh come Miss Oake, don’t be modest. You are well known among spiritualists. You never miss any of my open circles.” Turning back to Miss Brown, she confided “She really is extremely talented, you know. It takes dedication and practice to become a medium, but Miss Oake truly could be one if she would devote herself.”

“Really, Miss Oake? You astonish me.” Miss Brown bit her lip in an attempt to control her face.

“She is always so modest, Miss Brown.” Miss Fortuna said in her whispery voice.

The crimson in Miss Oake’s face deepened.

Miss Felice-Lytton, who had stepped out to find help setting up the séance, strode back in followed by a train of three bemused brunette maids bearing a table and chairs. She busily ordered the flustered maids about and then banished them summarily when she judged the job had been properly completed. She ushered the three brunettes to their seats at the little round table that was placed under the painting of the tulips. She beamed at Miss Brown as she sat down across from her.

How lovely she looks, Miss Brown thought.

“Very well, ladies, please all take each other’s hands and close your eyes.” Miss Button breathed dramatically.

Miss Brown gave her left hand to Miss Fortuna and took Miss Oake’s hand in her right. She saw Miss Felice-Lytton’s face turn serious as the blonde closed her eyes. Miss Oake already seemed as though she were in a trance when Miss Brown decided to close her eyes as well. She could not believe she was taking part in such nonsense.

Miss Fortuna started to hum and move from side to side. Miss Brown opened one eye and looked at the other ladies at the table. Miss Oake was swaying from side to side as well. Miss Brown was pleased to see, however, that Miss Felice-Lytton sat still with that serious look on her face. Then the blonde’s eyes opened and she looked straight at Miss Brown. The girls exchanged smiles and closed their eyes again.

Miss Fortuna stopped humming and spoke: “If the spirit of Katie Fox is willing to come and talk to us she may use my body. Miss Katie Fox, we ask you to join us. We need your help. If any good spirit is willing to advise us in the matter of the white tulip, please join us. You may use my body as your vessel.”

“Isn’t that what ectoplasm is for?” Miss Brown inquired. “Manifestation I mean.”

Miss Brown felt a little foot kick hers. “Hush!”

“Ectoplasm may show a spirit but it can’t make a spirit talk,” Miss Oake said loftily. “That is what we need a medium like Miss Fortuna for. Now concentrate, Miss Brown.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Miss Fortuna took a sudden deep breath. From deep within her a low laugh rose. Her voice became higher and higher until she was laughing in a loud screech. Miss Brown opened her eyes to look. Miss Felice-Lytton and Miss Oake also peered at the medium with interest. They did not at all seem shocked at the loud laughter.

“Right, I’m ‘ere. Whaddayawant then?”

“Ooh!” Miss Felice-Lytton exclaimed delightedly. “It’s Miss Katie Fox.”

“Tha’s right, sugar.”

Miss Brown was shocked. “Miss Button! Please don’t address Miss Felice-Lytton that way.”

“It is not Miss Fortuna.” Miss Oake said. “It is Miss Fox and I’m afraid that she has her own…er…ways.”

“Ooh, I suppose it’s about this ‘ere big old picture?”

Miss Oake took the lead. “Yes, Miss Fox. We would like to know more about the wilting tulip.”

“Oh well. It ain’t supposed to look flabby like that.”

Miss Brown sighed. “Well spotted.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, missy. You ‘appen to ‘ave the privlidge to talk to the greatest medium alive…dead I mean.”

Miss Felice-Lytton giggled.

“Well! I really do not want to take part in anything as ridiculous as this.” Miss Brown made to get up but was pulled down again by Miss Oake.

Sit, girl.” She hissed. “It is dangerous to break a circle.”

“Miss Brown, darling. Please stay. I am sure Miss Fox will be able to help us with your quest. We should at least try, don’t you think?” Miss Felice-Lytton looked at her friend pleadingly.

That moment Miss Fortuna’s head began to shake from side to side. Suddenly she sat up very straight and opened her eyes..

“Excuse me for intruding ladies. I happened to overhear my *colleague* and felt it right to set a few things straight before you continue with your noble quest for knowledge.”

Miss Brown stared at the medium. This voice was quite different from both Miss Fortune’s as Miss Fox’s voice. It was a contralto voice, and it spoke correctly and very pleasantly.

“My name is Cora Lodencia Veronica Scott and I am the greatest medium who ever lived. Miss Fox is nothing but a fraud. Very good at making knocking sounds on tables but couldn’t contact a spirit to save her life.”

Miss Fortuna started shaking again. “I’ll knock you if you’re not careful, Miss Scott,” Miss Fox snapped.

Miss Brown jumped at the loud abrupt knocking that seemed to originate from the table.

“Who did that?”

“Me is who did that, Miss Brown.” A screeching laugh followed.

“Goodness gracious!” Miss Brown rose from her seat, though her hands were still held tightly by the ladies on both sides.

Miss Oake remained calm. “Sit down, Miss Brown. Do you want to know about the painting or not?”

“She is insane, Miss Oake. We must stop this!”

Once again Miss Fortuna’s head shook. Miss Miss Scott’s voice spoke with great urgency. “You must be careful. I see dark clouds in the east. Grave danger. Old blood and young flesh. Beasts and maidens. If you part you’ll never see each other again. Beware!” Miss Scott’s voice faded away.

Miss Felice-Lytton looked alarmed. “That sounds dreadful. What do you suppose she means?”

“Now, let me just say a few things to you girlies.” Miss Fox spoke. “That there flabby tulip means trouble. Big old trouble. You fancy folk like even fancier folk but the old witch will eat you if you an’t careful. You young ones must stick together. It’s the only way. Right, I’m done ‘ere. Cheerio!”

Miss Fortune exhaled a great sighing breath, and her extravagantly-hatted head drooped forward onto the table.

Miss Oake released the hands she was holding, stood up and smoothed her skirts. “Well, there you have it, Miss Brown. I’m sure you will excuse me now. The ladies of the philosophy group are waiting for me.” Without waiting for a reply she walked rapidly away.

“Oh Miss Brown! What do we do now? You are in danger. I don’t like it.”

“Come come, Miss Felice-Lytton,” Miss Brown said shortly. “Do not worry. This is all a trick. There are no such things as talking spirits.” Miss Brown spoke with confidence but the words of the medium had left her feeling unquiet.

Miss Fortuna moaned. “Wh…where am I?” The feathered hat rose up from the table.

“Oh dear. Poor Miss Fortuna. Are you all right?” Miss Felice-Lytton put her hands out to help Miss Fortuna, who looked as though she were about to fall from her chair.

“What happened?” Miss Fortuna looked around dizzily.

“Miss Katie Fox and Miss Cora Scott visited. They warned about grave danger in the east.”

The medium straightened her hat. "Well, I do hope they told you what you wanted to know about the white tulip.”

Miss Brown sniffed. “They hardly mentioned the tulip at all.”

“In that case I’d try the library if I were you. I'm sure they have information about tulips there."

Miss Brown shot up. "Excellent advise. Why didn't I think of that? Thank you, Miss Button. Thank you very much. Miss Felice-Lytton, I must make my way to the library at once. Will you excuse me?"

Miss Felice-Lytton frowned. "No! I most certainly will not. You should not leave me here in your brunette club house. Besides, we have to stay together. The spirit guides said so. I am coming with you." She announced with finality.

"I do apologise Miss Felice-Lytton. How rude I am! Let me take you home. I shall go to the library afterward. Miss Button, will you find your way home?"

Miss Felice-Lytton crossed her arms. "Miss Brown, you did not listen. I am coming with you."

Miss Fortuna coughed. "Well, I had best make my way home. I am expected at Lady Deburgh's dinner party tonight. We will arrange the...er...practical matters later, Miss Felice-Lytton." The medium turned to Miss Brown. "If the spirit guides said you two should stay together I would take that advice to heart. It is easy to frown upon spiritualism but for all your frowns the spirits are probably right." She gave the girls a short nod. “Rayati.”


Last edited by Cecile Landgrebe on Tue Jun 09, 2009 3:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"No! No, I do not wish to join the library. No, not even if I get a six months free subscription to Gentle Brunette's Society magazine."

Miss Felice-Lytton hid a smile behind her small gloved hand. Miss Brown had been trying to gain access to the library for some time now but the clerk insisted she'd join the library before touching the card catalogue.

"This is ridiculous! This is a public library! Why do I need to join? All I want is to look at some books. I don't need to take them home. I have more books at home than I know what to do with, why would I want to take yours?"

"Yes Miss, I understand," the bespectacled clerk said quite coolly, "but it really is a good offer, especially with the subscription. If you do not like Gentle Brunette's Society perhaps you could make the young lady happy with The Perfect Lady? It is very popular among high born blondes."

Miss Brown's face turned red with anger. "No, thank you. I just want to look up some information."

"What is going on?" The head librarian, Miss Wicker, appeared from behind a stack of newly acquired books. Having witnessed Miss Brown's first appearance at the Black Tulip Society Miss Wicker recognised the young brunette at once. A knowing smile appeared on her face.

"Miss Brown, how good to see you have found your way to the library. Have you made any headway with our peculiar painting yet?"

"I am afraid not, Miss Wicker. Perhaps I would have by now but your clerk insists I join the library before she will let me access the endless rows of information she promises I will find behind those doors."

Miss Wicker smiled proudly at her clerk. "Young librarians are always so enthusiastic and devoted to the cause. Miss Courtenay will one day be head librarian herself."

The clerk gave Miss Brown a smug look.

"However, it is not necessary to join before being allowed access to the library."

Miss Brown straightened her back and gave Miss Courtenay a haughty smile in return.

"Your cause is a noble one, Miss Brown." Miss Wicker continued. "Miss Courtenay will assist you in finding the information you need."

Miss Courtenay scowled but quickly stepped from behind the counter and opened the door to the library. "Please follow me, ladies."

The Library of Loveton was impressive containing rows and rows of bookshelves. In the four corners of the building spiraled stairs led to balconies carrying more bookcases. Light poured in from the glass dome in the roof. In the center of the library stood a round counter with two librarians ready to help the visitors find what they need. Surrounding the counter heavy wooden reading tables stood in neat rows. Some were occupied by ladies engrossed in their reading. Clerks trotted to and fro carrying stacks of books or pushing little carriages laden with books and periodicals. It was very silent. A few whispers, the creaking of a floor board, a page turning but other than that, silence.

Miss Brown was enchanted. “Perhaps I shall join the library after all.”

Miss Courtenay smiled proudly. She whispered: “This is a small selection of the books Loveton Public Library holds. The vaults underneath the building contain the largest collection of books in all of Arcadia. Some are centuries old.” Miss Courtenay guided Miss Felice-Lytton and Miss Brown to an arcaded space on the right side of the library hall where enormous cupboards, each equipped with hundreds of little drawers, stood in neat rows.

“This is where you find our card catalogue. We have ordered the cards alphabetically by authoress and subject. Each card will give a short description of the book and tell you where to find it. What is it you are looking for exactly, honoured Misses?”

“We are looking for information about tulips.” Miss Brown said.

“Tulips!” Miss Courtenay looked up and pointed at the little signs hanging over the drawers.

“These signs will give you an indication of where you are. We are currently in the ‘Y’ section. 'T' for tulips is located further to the left.”

Miss Brown and Miss Felice-Lytton followed Miss Courtenay as she walked to the ‘T’ section. The clerk looked at a few drawers and then pulled one out. She quickly and expertly flipped through the cards.

“Tulips! Here we have it. ‘Tulip gardening.’ ‘Tulip species’ ‘Gardening with Tulips’ ‘Tulips in Art’.”

“Yes! That one!” Miss Felice-Lytton quickly covered her mouth, her voice still echoing through the library.

Miss Brown gave her a short frown before turning her attention back to Miss Courtenay.

“What else is there?”

“We have many books about tulips.” Miss Courtenay said. She peered over her glasses at Miss Felice-Lytton. “Your young friend seems interested in the book about art. Is that what you are looking for?”

Miss Brown hesitated. “Yes, art and perhaps stories or mysteries.”

“Mysteries?” Miss Courtenay raised an eyebrow before turning to the cards.

“Yes, and perhaps something about white tulips.”

Miss Courtenay quickly pulled a few cards of the little drawer and closed it again with a little click. “Ladies, please take a seat at one of the reading tables. I will be back shortly with the books.

“Thank you, Miss Courtenay.”

With a short nod the clerk disappeared behind the rows of drawers.

Miss Brown looked around and smiled. “I like the library, Miss Felice-Lytton. It is so peaceful and ordered and …” she sighed, “calm.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” Miss Felice-Lytton whispered. “It’s a little silent though. I am scared to say anything.”

Miss Brown smiled at her friend and held out her arm. “Good. Now let us find a table.”

Not much later Miss Courtenay appeared with a stack of books. She put the stack on the table and gave Miss Brown a notecard.

“This card states which books you have here. When you are done with them you can give them to the clerks over there at the counter in the center. They will make sure the books will be put back in their place. Should you wish more books about this topic they will find them for you. I wish you good luck with you quest, misses.”

Miss Courtenay reverenced and walked back to her place at the entrance desk of the library.

Miss Felice-Lytton gave Miss Brown a big eyed stare. “We have to read all these books?”

Miss Brown sighed. “Yes, I am afraid so.” She took one of the books from the stack and handed it to Miss Felice-Lytton. “‘Tulips in Art’ for you my dear.”

--

“Anything yet?”

Miss Brown shook her head. “I know that the most famous tulip is the Semper Augusta. It was the most expensive tulip to be sold during the tulipomania in Jenilow. I know that an Estrenne ambassador called Oghella Ghislain de Busbecq brought the tulip to the West for the first time. I know that they originate from mountainous with temperate climates but I fear none of that is going to help us.” She closed the book on cultivation of white tulips and picked up ‘Flower Fairytales from the East’.

“Did you find anything?”

“No, I have seen every tulip picture in every art book but nothing that looks remotely like the painting at the Society.” Miss Felice-Lytton sighed. “I am going to stretch my legs for a moment, darling.”

Miss Brown looked up from behind her book. “All right. But don’t stay away too long. We have five more books here and I am afraid we shall have to ask for more. I was wondering if we should have asked for books about black tulips too. Could you ask the clerks while you are up?”

“Yes, darling.”

Miss Felice-Lytton walked away from the table leaving Miss Brown engrossed in her fairytale book. She idly sauntered through the isles. She understood her friend’s fascination with this place. It was strict, silent, organised, much like Miss Brown herself. She imagined her friend behind one of the counters and grinned. She did not believe Miss Brown had the patience being a librarian required. She could not stand silly questions or disorganised characters. She sometimes wondered why Miss Brown liked her but in the end the reason did not matter much. For some reason Miss Brown’s patience with her was almost infinite. Dear Miss Brown.

Miss Felice-Lytton climbed up one of the spiral stairs. She admired the floral design of the ironwork as she ascended. Up on the balcony her eye was caught by a book with a beautifully decorated spine. She took it from the shelve and put it down on a table. She let her hand glide over the gilded letters. ‘Family Crests and Insignia’. She quickly looked up the Lytton crest. There it was. White and blue with three golden crowns. She smiled at the familiarity of the image. Miss Felice-Lytton closed the book and picked it up from the table. Not having taken much care about *how* she picked it up the weight of the book suddenly became too much and she dropped it onto the floor with a loud bang. A brunette who had been browsing the shelves rushed towards her.

“Are you all right, Miss?”

Miss Felice-Lytton stood there, looking wide eyed at the page the book had fallen open to. The worried looking brunette bent down to pick it up.

“No!” Miss Felice-Lytton dropped onto her knees to prevent the lady from closing the book.

“Miss Brown!” Her light voice resounded through the library.

She quickly picked up the book without closing it and rushed down the stairs. She found Miss Brown standing beside the reading table filled with books looking quite shocked.

“What do you think you are doing shouting my name through this library at the top of your lungs?” She hissed.

“Look!”

Miss Felice-Lytton dropped the book loudly onto the table and pointed at the page it opened to.

Miss Brown gasped and then stared at the dark red crest upon which a black and a white tulip were entwined.

“Darling!”

Miss Felice-Lytton beamed at Miss Brown and replied casually: “Yes, darling?”
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Sushuri Madonna
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Location: In a strange and scary place on a long journey homeward.

PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope I am not interrupting the flow of the narrative too much by saying that I LOVE this story!

The characters are marvy. It is intriguing, exciting and funny all at the same time. Miss Button is a gem of a character, and Miss Brown and Miss Felice-Lytton are so charmingly opposite and yet so well-matched.

The Loveton Library just springs to life in all its dusty glory. Well, actually I imagine it is dusted more than regularly and hardly has a speck, but it is metaphorically dusty.

I am sure Loveton Central Library feels JUST like this!
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Cecile Landgrebe
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Joined: 07 Feb 2008
Posts: 156

PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 9:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miss Brown grabbed the book, took Miss Felice-Lytton’s hand and rushed towards the exit. The library was dead silent. There were no more sounds of pages turning or ladies whispering. All eyes were on Miss Felice-Lytton and Miss Brown.

“Miss Brown, where are you taking that book?” Miss Courtenay stepped from behind her counter as she saw Miss Brown come through the library doors.

“You have not joined, you are not allowed to take that book!”

“Yes, yes, I’ll come back and join later and I shan’t even need a magazine subscription.” Miss Brown hustled rapidly across the large room and pushed open the door to the street.

“You have a lovely library, Miss Courtenay.” Miss Felice-Lytton called back as she trotted after Miss Brown.

Out in the street Miss Brown hailed a cab and waited impatiently for the carriage to pull up to them. She handed Miss Felice-Lytton in, then passed her the heavy book and put her foot on the step. She rapped on the side of the carriage to get the driver’s attention.

The driver looked around from her approving inspection of a passing blonde—a visiting Kadorian by the shortness of the skirt—and sniffed. “Where to, Miss?”

“Where are we going, darling?” Miss Felice-Lytton asked at the same moment. She was arranging her skirts around herself carefully, the heavy book balanced precariously on her knees.

“Baxter Street.” Miss Brown told the driver and ducked into the cab.

“What is in Baxter Street?”

“Lady Deburgh.”

“Oh Miss Brown! How clever you are! Lady Deburgh knows every raihirin family in Arcadia. She will know this family too.” Miss Felice-Lytton gazed happily at her friend for a moment, then opened the book and peeredcuriously at the crest with the tulips. “Szantes…that is a rather strange family name, don’t you think?”

Miss Brown nodded. “I don’t believe I ever met anyone with that name. I do hope Lady Deburgh is at home. Do you suppose she will be at home, Miss Felice-Lytton?”

“Oh, Lady Deburgh is always at home these days.” Miss Felice-Lytton said vaguely. She extended a curious fingertip and rubbed the padding of the carriage wall. She checked her glove for dirt. “She only goes out for special occasions. Besides, Miss Fortuna said she was invited to dinner by Lady Deburgh. That must imply she will be at home.”

Miss Brown shifted uncomfortably on her bench. She did not look forward to meeting the odd Miss Button again. She lookedhopefully at her pocket watch. It was not quite dinner time: If they were lucky they could avoid running into any of Lady Deburgh’s guests.

The coach stopped and the driver dismounted. Miss Brown stepped out onto the little step under the carriage door, then helped Miss Felice-Lytton emerge. Giving Miss Felice-Lytton her arm, she led her blonde friend to the door of Lady Deburgh’stownhouse holding the big book under her other arm. She rang the bell and waited for the door to open. She looked at Miss Felice-Lytton who had quickly put her hand to her hair to straighten a few curls. The blonde looked up at Miss Brown and smiled. “What, darling?”

Before Miss Brown could answer a servant dressed in crisp black and white opened the door. “Yes, ma’am?”

“This is Miss Agatha Felice-Lytton and I am Miss Eliza Brown. We have come to see Lady Deburgh.”

The servant bowed her head and opened the door to let the girls in. “Won’t you come in? If you will wait here, I will see if she is available.”

“Thank you.” Miss Brown admired the servant’s uniform, her looks, her manners and her voice. Obviously well-run hestia, she decided approvingly.

Miss Felice-Lytton clasped her hands together. “Lady Deburgh has excellent taste, don’t you think, Miss Brown?”

Miss Brown looked around. The walls of the hallway were a pale lavender framed in white. The room was furnished with white rattan chairs and a little table holding purple orchids. It was a distinctly blonde interior but not overly frilly.

“For a hallway it is quite a nice size,” Miss Brown answered.

The servant reappeared. “Lady Deburgh will see you, ma’ am. If you would please follow me?”

Miss Brown gave Miss Felice-Lytton her arm and together they followed the servant. They found Lady Deburgh watering her plants in her conservatory. The elderly blonde made Miss Brown think of a tropical flower. She was dressed in a duckling yellow frock according to West Arcadian fashion. The sleek bustleless skirt accentuated her slim figure while the frills around her shoulders made them seem broader. The collar going up to her chin was fastened with pearl buttons, mirroring the whiteness of the wide streaks in her honey blonde hair. Miss Brown liked her at once.

“Ah! Miss Felice-Lytton! Darling!” Lady Deburgh put down her little watering can and walked toward the couple standing in the door. She took the smaller blonde’s shoulders in her hands and squeezed affectionately. “I have not seen you since you were a little girl. How you have grown!” Her hand went up to Miss Felice-Lytton’s chin and she examined the young blonde’s face closely. “You are the image of your grandmother, my dear child. I knew her well.” Lady Deburgh’s bright blue eyes shone with pleasure. Releasing Miss Felice-Lytton, she turned to her other guest. “Who is this dashing brunette you have brought to see me?”

Miss Felice-Lytton smiled. “Lady Deburgh, may I present to you Miss Eliza Brown?”
Miss Brown took the hand Lady Deburgh held out and bowed over it. “A very great honor, milady.”

“Enchanted, Miss Brown. Do come and sit down, girls.” Lady Deburgh ushered the girls to a white rattan set, very like the one they had seen in the hallway. “Daisy will bring tea in a moment. Will you forgive me if I continue with my plants? They are terribly delicate and if I don’t water them now I will forget all about it, setting off droopy plant complaints of wilting and withering.”

The perfume of the flowers wafted through the conservatory. The sudden sun peeping out from behind the clouds shone through the windows, warming the room pleasantly.

“Oh good!” Lady Deburgh exclaimed as she looked up through the glass at the sun. “I so dislike these rainy overcast days. Don’t you?”

The crisply-dressed maid came in carrying a tea tray.

“Ah, tea! Excellent.” Lady Deburgh put down her watering can and joined the girls at the little rattan table. “Tea,girls?”

Without waiting for a reply she handed Miss Felice-Lytton a pink cup of tea that Daisy had just poured. “Miss Brown?”

“Thank you, Lady Deburgh.” Miss Brown took a pink cup and smelled the steam. Rose tea, of course.

“Tell me, why have you two young ladies come to visit me? This is not a social call, I’m sure. Let me guess. It has something to do with that big book.” Lady Deburgh pointed at the family crest book Miss Brown had put down beside her chair.

“Indeed.” Miss Brown picked up the book. “You see, Lady Deburgh, I have been asked to solve a little mystery.”

“She is on a quest, really.” Miss Felice-Lytton intervened.

“Oh! A quest! Is the Black Tulip Society doing quests again? I thought that chapter had closed hundreds of years ago. Surely it is really a brandy club these days, is it not?” Lady Deburgh gave Miss Brown an amused smile. She had noticed the tulip pin on Miss Brown’s breast.

Miss Brown sat up straighter and set her teacup back in its saucer with a nervous clatter. “Well er…I don’t really know. I’ve not been a…I’m not supposed to talk about that, milady. Forgive me.”

Miss Felice-Lytton gave a soft laugh, then quickly hid her smile behind her hand.

“Oh Miss Felice-Lytton. Isn’t it funny how brunettes always think they are mysterious with their secret societies and quests and whatnot? Still, it is a serious matter.” Lady Deburgh’s gentle face turned somber. “We may not understand their games but if it is important to our brunettes it is important to us, darling.”

Miss Felice-Lytton nodded seriously. “Yes, milady. Quite right.”

Miss Brown had coloured a deep red. She did not like being made fun of. She had believed the Society of the Black Tulip to be secret but it seemed everyone knew everything about it. Everyone other than herself.

“Pray continue, Miss Brown.” Lade Deburgh spoke soothingly. “I should not have interrupted you.”

Miss Brown cleared her throat nervously. “We were looking for an image of a black and white tulip entwined and Miss Felice-Lytton found this at the library.”

She opened the book at the page with the Szantes family crest and turned it around, holding it so that Lady Deburgh could see the pages easily. “Apparantly the family Szantes has the entwined black and white tulips of the society as their family crest.”

Lady Deburgh leaned forward, looking at the image with interest.

“Unfortunately neither Miss Felice-Lytton nor I have ever heard of anyone with the name Szantes. We were hoping you could help us, Lady Deburgh.”

Lady Deburgh leaned back into her chair and took a sip of tea. “Interesting. Szantes.” The elderly brunette looked dreamily into the distance. “It rings a bell somehow.” She put down her pretty pink cup and stood up. “It sounds like a name from the East. Northeast, actually.”

She walked over to where she had left her watering can and turned her attention to a splendid bright pink orchid. “I do remember hearing that name. It was a very long time ago. I do not believe I actually met a maid with the name Szantes though. It was one of those estate things. If I remember correctly one of the Anderline girls…oh girls, they are all grown now. They are older than I am. Hm… In any case one of the Anderline girls had set her heart on marrying a girl from the east. What was her name again? Anchalya, Kasnevya? Something of the kind. The Anderline connection with Eastern families has always been strong. Jasperina Anderline is the daughter of a maid from the Cheraskin line. A great extended noble family. Oh! Family dinners must have been such a logistical nightmare! Countesses, Baronesses, Princesses even. Just imagine the issues with table settings. Who sits where when you have three Baronesses coming for lunch?” Lady Deburgh dramatically waved her arms, spilling some water from the watering can onto the floor. Miss Felice-Lytton tapped her chin with her finger wondering about the question.

The elderly blonde walked over to another group of plants and continued: “Yes, the Cheraskins. An interesting family to say the least. In any case, Elizabeth Anderline, I think it was, wanted to marry a girl from the East. A pretty little thing. Her name was Olga Anchalya. Yes, Anchalya, that was it. The name Szantes was connected to her somehow. It was an estate issue. Something about some land in the Northeast. It used to belong to the Szantes family I believe but the Anchalya family claimed it as theirs as the Szantes line had died out. It was supposed to be part of the girl’s dowry. But then there was the Scholant family and, strangely enough also the Wildercombes.” Lady Deburgh looked over her shoulder at the younger blonde. “You know the Wildercombe family, do you not, Miss Felice-Lytton?”

“Yes, milady. I do.” Miss Felice-Lytton nodded. She adored family gossip. “I’ve been to school with Annette Wildercombe.”

“Rumour spreads quickly, and when the word of Olga Anchalya’s lands in the north east came out, both the Scholant and the Wildercombe family also claimed the land as theirs. It was quite the little uproar. Dea knows why there was all this conflict over a few trees on top of a mountain. I wouldn’t want it if they gave me a palace to go with it.” Suddenly Lady Deburgh looked up and frowned. The tilted watering can continued to dribble water into the cluster of petunias she had been attending.

“Actually, I believe there was some talk of a castle of sorts.” She shrugged, spilling more water from the watering can. “Well, it can’t have been more than a pile of rubble. If I understand correctly none of the Anchalyas, Scholants or Wildercombes had ever been to the place. In the end nothing ever came of it. Olga Anchalya broke off the engagement and later married Jane Malverton. I do not believe the issue of the land was ever resolved.”

The doorbell sounded loudly through the conservatory. Lady Deburgh jumped in surprise. “Oh dear! What time is it? I amhostessing a dinner party tonight. These can’t be the guests yet, can they?”

Miss Brown looked at her pocket watch. “I am afraid it might be exactly that, milady.”

Lady Deburgh looked at her pretty yellow outfit and sighed. “Oh dear, and I haven’t even dressed. You girls kept me talking about these things that happened so very long ago. I am sorry I have not been able to be of much help, Miss Brown. As far as I know there is no maid living with the name Szantes. They used to live in the northeast, that is all I know.”

Miss Brown stood up. “You said it was a mountainous area, milady. Can you remember a region? Perhaps the name of the mountains?”

“Well let me think.” Lady Deburgh elegantly scratched her temple. “Kronaberg? I believe it was Kronaberg.”

The crisply dressed maid returned once again to the conservatory. “Miss Button has arrived, milady.”

“Oh! Oh oh oh! I must go and dress!” Lady Deburgh hastily put down her watering can, which tipped over onto its side. The little water remaining in it trickled out. She walked over to Miss Felice-Lytton who had stood up. She kissed the young blonde’s cheek. “Darling! How lovely it was to see you again. You have become such a pretty young lady. Miss Brown, it was wonderful to meet you.” The young visitors both reverenced respectfully.

Lady Deburgh took two steps back and looked at the young ones approvingly. “Oh, you’ll be so happy together.”

Miss Brown raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“Darlings, you will forgive me, I must hurry. Daisy will let you out. Do come and see me again.” She called over her shoulder as she fluttered out into the hallway.

“Well!” Miss Felice-Lytton sighed.

“Indeed.” Miss Brown said.
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Cecile Landgrebe
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PostPosted: Sat May 30, 2009 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was early morning when Miss Brown descended the stairs of her home in Loveton. In the hallway she found her two aunts and her cousin Abigail waiting for her. Madge helped her into her travelling coat and handed her her gloves. Abigail, standing at her post by the front door with her aunts, sniffed tearfully into her handkerchief. Miss Brown quickly buttoned her coat and looked up with a sigh.

“Eliza,” Aunt Agnes stepped forward and took Miss Brown’s face in her hand. Miss Brown was not an exceptionally tall brunette but she had to bend down significantly to let Aunt Agnes kiss her. Aunt Agnes and Aunt Adele were both blondes of the short and chubby variety. Rosy-cheeked and ever-cheerful, the sisters had taken care of their niece ever since she had finished school. Today they looked a little pale.

“You will be careful, will you not?” Aunt Agnes kissed her again and released her.

“Yes, Aunt Agnes. I shall be careful.”

“Our Eliza is always careful, sister.” Aunt Adele, stepping forward, straightened Miss Brown’s cravat and took her chin between her thumb and forefinger. “Are you not?” She examined her tall niece. Twenty-eight was such an odd age, practically a child, and yet they had relied on her so trustingly for her brunette competence. Perhaps they had forced her to grow up too quickly.

“Yes, Aunt Adele. I am always careful.”

Aunt Adele kissed her niece and then quickly wiped the lipstick from her cheeks. “I shall miss you, darling.”

Abigail’s sniffing suddenly turned into loud sobs. She hurled herself into Miss Brown’s arms and held her tightly. “Oh Eliza! Don’t go! I shall miss you so terribly.”

Miss Brown embraced her cousin and kissed her cheek, then held her close again. “I will be back soon,” she whispered. Flamboyant little Abigail had always held a special place in her heart.

“No! No! You’ll be gone forever and I can’t stand it,” wailed Abigail.

“I shall write. I shall send you postcards from foreign lands, darling.”

Abigail, somewhat soothed, gulped “You had better write, you mean brunette.”

“I shall miss you too, you know.” Miss Brown said, a little hoarsely.

Beside the door Madge stood holding a large carpet bag and Miss Brown’s umbrella. “The carriage is ready, Miss.”

Miss Brown peeled her cousin’s arms away, gave her a last kiss and drew on her leather carriage gloves, newly purchased for this journey.

She reverenced deeply. “Rayati dear Aunt Adele, Aunt Agnes, rayati dearest cousin.”

The three blondes returned the salute, three pretty heads bowing in unison. “Hurry back dear,” Aunt Adele said.

Miss Brown nodded and took the bag and umbrella from Madge. Outside the driver stood holding the door of the carriage. Miss Brown’s trunk was tied safely to the luggage rack at the back. The morning air was cold and fresh, promising a beautiful summer day. Miss Brown nodded at the driver and stepped into the carriage.

As the carriage rolled away she waved from the window to her family standing in the door. They waved their handkerchiefs at her; Abilgail's was noticeably limp. Tears welled in her eyes. Miss Brown had no idea how long she was going to be away from home. She quickly blinked and took out her pocket watch. She would be well in time for the train to Viktorya.

--

The train station of Loveton was smaller than one would expect. Trains from all the great cities of Arcadia arrived and departed here. The train schedule was run with startling precision and efficiency, making full use of the eight tracks that were available. The carriers that had come rushing as Miss Brown stepped out of the carriage needed only the name of her destination before setting to work unloading her trunk. The station hall was bustling with activity. Miss Brown raised her eyebrows at the sight of a group of Kadorian blondes making their way to the second class lounge.

Miss Brown did not believe she had ever seen so many bare blonde legs at one time, though to be honest she had seen very few bare blonde legs at all. Apparently the train to Ladyton was also about to depart, she mused.

“Destination please ma’am.” A stout railway guard looked at Miss Brown questioningly.

Miss Brown jerked erect and coloured. She felt caught.

She quickly straightened her jacket and handed the guard her ticket. She couldn’t help looking at the legs. They were simply there. She had not really looked at them anyway, she had seen them. Seeing was different from looking.

“Platform eight, ma’am. Please follow me.” The grinning guard, who clearly had noticed the direction of Miss Brown’s gaze, turned and walked away.

Miss Brown followed stiffly after the guard.

At platform eight the train to Viktorya stood ready. The guard led Miss Brown to the door of one of the carriages and handed the ticket to the onboard guard. Miss Brown had her foot on the little step, ready to board when she heard her name.

“Miss Eliza Brown”

Startled Miss Brown looked behind her, searching for the voice that had spoken her name. Instantly her eyes fell on the blonde sitting crossed legged on her trunk, hands
clasping her umbrella as if it was a walking cane.

“Miss Felice-Lytton!”

“Miss Eliza Brown.” Miss Felice-Lytton hissed angrily. Her foot swung vehemently under her skirts.

Miss Brown swallowed as she saw her friend’s dark eyes glistening. “Darling, you seem vexed.”

“Well spotted.”

Miss Brown cleared her throat somewhat nervously. Miss Felice-Lytton had practically growled those last words at her. “Er…Miss Felice-Lytton…ahem…what er…what are you doing here?”

The blonde stood up from her trunk and motioned to one of the carriers who instantly made to carry it on board. Miss Brown took a step back as Miss Felice-Lytton approached her.

“I might ask you the same question, darling.”

The guard who had stood by watching the scene quickly tipped her cap and scurried off.

“I am going to Kronaberg.” Miss Brown said.

“Such a coincidence. So am I.” Miss Felice-Lytton handed the onboard guard her ticket.

Miss Brown looked at her friend’s truck being carried on board and then at her guard extending her hand to help Miss Felice-Lytton up the steps into the carriage.

“What? Wait! No!”

Miss Felice-Lytton looked back at Miss Brown, ignoring the guard’s hand. “Do you really think you could keep this a secret from me, Miss Brown? I waited for a message from you until the very last moment. I sat at home, waiting for a sign from you. Until the very last moment I trusted you to let me know. I trusted you not to leave me behind.”

Miss Brown felt anger rising up. “Yes! Exactly! I didn’t tell you because I knew you would want to come.”

“Don’t you take that tone with me Eliza Brown.” Miss Felice-Lytton wagged her elegant finger at Miss Brown. “You know we are supposed to stay together.”

“What? Because some magician told you so? Don’t be foolish Agatha Felice-Lytton. You know very well that this Miss Button is a fraud.”

Miss Felice-Lytton looked shocked. “She is no such thing! And even if she was I would still come with you. You need me, Eliza. You are bound to get yourself in trouble.”

Miss Brown huffed.

“Don’t you give me that! You know it is true.” Miss Felice-Lytton sniffed and turned archly away.

“You are not coming with me! Don’t be stubborn Miss Felice-Lytton. What will people say? Blondes don’t travel with unrelated brunettes.”

Miss Felice-Lytton raised her eyebrows. “I am not travelling with you. I am travelling by myself. We just happen to have the same destination.”

Miss Brown wanted to pull at her hair with frustration. “Blondes don’t travel by themselves! You haven’t even brought Patty! Everyone will think I did a dishonourable thing.”

“Are you saying people will also believe I did a dishonourable thing? I thought you held me in higher esteem, Miss Brown.”

Miss Brown opened and closed her mouth gasping for air. “That is not what I meant! Please Miss Felice-Lytton. I don’t know what awaits us in Kronaberg. Travelling there might be dangerous. What if something happens to you?”

“Ha! You said ‘us’. That settles it. I am coming, whether you like it or not.”

“Agatha!”

“I am done with this conversation, Miss Brown.” Miss Felice-Lytton turned her attention back to the guard. She accepted the hand held out to her and got on board.

Miss Brown fought the overwhelming desire to throw her bag and umbrella at the train and scream with anger. Instead she followed Miss Felice-Lytton onto the train.
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