All through the school year, I can’t wait for the summer, so I can do some writing. Now that it’s the summer, I’m looking forward to the school year, so I can do some writing. Ha! Even though my kids are no longer small, they still keep me busy. Plus, it is a battle to get “computer time” as everyone in my family wants on. I don’t mean this as a whine session–I love being a mom. And, the truth is that I’m a pretty lazy writer, so I sometimes let other people’s desire to use the computer as an excuse for me not having to write.
Anyway, today’s blog is supposed to be about my new novel. I’ve broken down and started re-writing my newest novel, converting it to a mystery. I’m really happy with it. I’ve changed to first person and toughened up my protagonist, Olivia. I’m so happy with the Prologue that I’d like to share it with everyone. Please let me know what you think. (If you are an agent and editor and interested, let me know: elizabethcfelt at gmail.com).
I’d played many roles in my years as an actress, but strangely never murderess. It wasn’t a role I much cared for now. I had not killed poor Mrs. Bracknell no matter what the chief constable thought. And I certainly didn’t steal that jeweled monstrosity, the Emrubdiam of Khartoum.
Wrists tied tightly together with linen strips and attached to a small ring, I sat in the back of a dog cart being transported to whatever stood for a prison in the nearby country village. Although cleaner than I’d expected, the dog cart was uncomfortable and dangerously unsteady. I sat awkwardly on the bare wood, my arms tight against the ring in the corner, each rut or rock in the road jarring the cart and knocking me against its hardness.
The cart was meant to carry dogs to a race or a hunt, but with a belly laugh, the Admiral had compared me to a dog and ordered it for my transport. The farmer turned police officer who came to take me away had objected, citing the open back and his inexperience driving this weak vehicle. I would soon be grateful for the Admiral’s theatrical rather than practical choice of transport.
The air was cool for a September morning, patches of fog hanging in the valleys and gulleys of the countryside. The sky was a dark steel grey and thunder rumbled in the distance, though it might have been the sound of railway cars banging at the station some three miles distant.
About fifteen minutes from Hudson House, we entered a thick but small wood, where the fog seemed to cling to the heavy-leafed trees. The wet cold air was hard to breathe. I found the wood ominous and a bit frightening. Having spent my life amid the cobblestones and traffic of London, I did not trust the English wilderness.
Faced to the rear and watching the road disappear in the fog, I did not see the sharp turn at our front. The driver must have known the path, but he did not slow sufficiently. The cart tipped, angled sharply and rolled briefly on one wheel before going all the way over. The wood panels of the corner in which I was tied split apart and I was thrown into the brush at the side of the road. My hands were still tied with the metal ring dangling from the linen strips.
The policeman had also been thrown but landed on his feet, his hands wrapped in the reins. Cursing and staggering, he tried to slow the horse who continued dragging the shattered cart down the road. Before he could look back and see what had happened to me, I darted into the darkness of the wood.
It would only be a moment before he had the horse stopped and returned for me. I had little chance of out running him, with my hands tied and wearing a thick skirt and slippers. The fog would be my friend, but I had no desire to run thoughtlessly and become lost amid the trees. Moving only about twenty yards into the wood, I turned sharply and ran parallel to the road, back the way we had come, looking desperately for a place to hide.
The wood had many tall trees, but now that I was running among them, they did not appear so very close together. The forest floor was thick with saplings, shrubbery and gorse bushes, which snagged at my skirt and slowed my progress. The fog was patchy and not a reliable camouflage. I needed to find a hiding place and quickly.
Behind me, I heard the police officer yell, “Miss Snow! Yeh’ll do yehself no favors by runnin’. Come back now and I’ll not tell a soul yeh ran.”
I dropped to the ground, slid under a thick bush and tried to quiet my breathing.
He continued to yell, enabling me to follow his movements by ear. At first he moved farther away, thinking I’d run deep into the woods. As I began to be relieved by his dwindling voice it grew stronger.
“Miss Snow! Miss Snow! I can track yeh, yeh know. Yeh left a trail of broken brush.”
His voice grew louder as he talked.
My heart raced and I prayed he was bluffing. There was nothing I could do now. If I came out of my hiding place he would see me for certain.
He stopped calling, but he was now near enough that I could hear him, the snap of twigs, the pulling of shrubbery. I held my breath when I saw his worn brown boots less than five feet from where I lie.
He stood still, uttering no sound. The entire wood seemed to have become eerily silent.
So, of course, I felt the urgent need to cough.
The tickle at the back of my throat was impossible to ignore. My eyes watered, I vibrated my throat to dislodge it, to no avail. It was as though an army of ants were dancing in my esophagus.
Just as I thought my capture was unavoidable, I heard noise. An erratic tapping echoed across the wood. It was the strangest sound, like a drummer who had lost his beat, tap-tap, then silence, then tap-tap-tap, then a shorter silence, then more tapping. Soon the entire wood hummed with the drummer. The leaves in the brush above me swayed and bowed, dispersing raindrops onto my face.
The tapping was replaced by a crack of thunder and the heaviest rainstorm I had ever experienced while hiding beneath a small shrubbery. The policeman let loose a few obscenities and ran back to the road.
I allowed myself a small, throat-clearing cough and felt much better.
The bush kept much of the water away from my person and I was not as soaked as I might have been. I waited until the storm had passed and then crawled from my hiding place. Moving as carefully as possible, I approached the road while keeping hidden in the wood. The broken dog cart lay in the ditch at the side of the road. The horse and policeman were nowhere to be seen.
I returned to the shelter of the wood and began chewing on my linen bindings. The material was well made and strong, but I was soon able to create a small tear. I tried pulling my wrists apart, but I could not get the material to rip all the way through. Ignoring the sodden leaves and mud, I sat and placed the heel of my boot against the tear. I pushed and pulled until I felt my arms would pop from my shoulders, and finally the tear worked its way across a single layer of the material. When it had torn through, the rest of the linen was easily unwound.
It was now time for a transformation. Lifting my outer layer of skirt, I removed the pinafore I had taken from the nursery that morning. Pulling at my tight sleeves, I withdrew my arms then tugged my day dress around so I was wearing it in reverse. It fit badly across the shoulders and was extremely tight across my chest. The bustle, now in front, looked extremely odd. I put on the pinafore which hid the rumpled bustle and gave me an expectant look. I pulled the pinafore tight across the belly, so as not to look too far advanced in my pregnancy.
Next, I ripped the linen bindings into strips and braided them with a blue ribbon. I took down my beautifully coiffed, although completely ruined, hair and formed two simple plaits. I formed them into a ball at the back of my head and placed my makeshift linen-ribbon cap on the top of my head, just above my forehead. Simple hair and simple cap for a country girl.
My eyes are the envy of Amorphis. My mother had green eyes and my father blue. I was born with both, and grey to boot. My eyes are changeable, moving from green to blue to grey depending on the proximity of each of those colors. Making certain the pinafore hid the green of my dress and with the blue ribboned cap on my head, I transformed from an aristocrat with green eyes to a simple maid with blue.
I returned to the road and headed in the direction of Hudson House, walking with my legs a little more apart than normal: the stable gait of a sturdy woman. I would knock at the back door and report as extra kitchen staff for the weekend. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a start. The best way to prove my own innocence would be to reveal the actual murderer, and to do that I needed to get into the house.
The fog had disappeared with the rain and with the end of the rain, the sky had become a lighter and more friendly grey. The muddy road soon left the wood for the plowed fields of –shire. As I trudged along, I considered the people currently ensconced in Hudson House. I knew a great deal about some and nearly nothing about others. I could imagine nearly every one of them as guilty. Sighing deeply and stepping around a puddle, I took my thoughts back to the evening at Oscar Wilde’s salon and the beginning of this preposterous mess.