Today, it was announced that fantasy novelist Barry Hughart died on August 1. He only published three books, but the first one, Bridge Of Birds, won the World Fantasy Award.
His novels were set in “an ancient China that never was.” The main characters were the naive farm boy Number Ten Ox and Master Li, “a sage with a slight flaw in [his] character.” They traversed China, unraveling ancient mysteries and often leaving chaos in their wake.
Bridge Of Birds was a wonderful book, blending Chinese myth and folklore with moments of comedy, tragedy, suspense, horror and beauty. It’s not a perfect book, and I can see some problematic elements in it now, but it was my favorite novel ever at one time, and it may still be.
Barry Hughart’s writing was a big influence on mine when I started writing novels, possibly one of the biggest. The fourth Monkey Queen book, A Tiding Of Magpies, tried to pull the same trick Hughart did with reworking the Qi Xi/Tanabata legend, and I suspect you could feel his style in my words and ideas. I dedicated the book to him. I tried to track him down, so I could thank him and send him a copy of the book, but his last publisher had lost touch with him. I suspect that he valued his privacy…but I deeply regret not having a chance to tell him how much I appreciated his work.
These are the final words from Bridge Of Birds (spoiler free). I wanted to end this by sharing them with you:
“I shall clap my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.
“May your villages remain ignorant of tax collectors, and may your sons be many and ugly and strong and willing workers, and may your daughters be few and beautiful and excellent providers of love gifts from eminent families that live very far away, and may your lives be blessed by the beauty that has touched mine.
I thought I’d take a break from incessantly promoting my upcoming novel
Peavley Manor (Or, Introducing Macalley) (Coming August 27! Preorder today at Amazon and other sites!) to make this
The individual Peavley Manor novelettes (Book Fair Frenzy, The Thorn Harbour Road Rally, The Missing Mallard, and The Rebellious Rooster) will be removed from sale at all ebook sites this Sunday, August 18.
I’m doing this to avoid confusion among readers. Instead of having to figure out which of six titles they need to buy then giving up and going out for a cuppa, now they’ll know that they have to just get two books, the novel and the collection of novelettes.
If you still want to buy the individual novelettes, you have until Saturday to do so. However, if you haven’t bought any of those, I’d urge you to buy the Tales Of Peavley Manor (Or, Macalley Gets It Together) collection instead. Due to Amazon‘s pricing and royalty structure, it’ll be cheaper for you, AND it makes me more money than buying the single volumes! Wins all around!
Do let me know if you have any questions. Thank you, as always, for your time and your support!
Hello. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I owe everyone an explanation at some point for going quiet here, but I’m back with good news: After over a year and a half of work, the first Peavley Manor novel is finally on its way! Peavley Manor (Or, Introducing Macalley) is coming August 27, and you can preorder the ebook now on Amazon! It should be up soon on iTunes, Kobo and other stores, and there will be a paperback edition as well.
Read on for Chapters One and Two!
Chapter One: That Fateful Tuesday
I showed up for work on that fateful
Tuesday wearing my second-favorite outfit, a yellow ankle-length sundress with
navy blue trim. Had I known it would be my last day of employment at the Thorn
Harbour Book Shop, I might have chosen something different to wear.
Monday had been a bit of a rough day, as
the new Skybright book had just been released. We had people coming in all day
to obtain their copy, and in some cases buy the three earlier books or catch up
on another series or two. While Mabel, who owned the shop, was grateful for the
business, a few customers had been somewhat willful, and I had been blessed, or
perhaps cursed, to deal with all of them.
As a result, I had needed a bit of
self-pampering that Tuesday morning, and I had just enough shillings set aside
to do it. I dressed a bit fancier than I usually did for work, and stopped off
along the way at my favorite bakery for a cup of tea and an apple tart. By the
time I arrived at the book shop, I was almost back to my usual level of
Mabel, however, was not very chippery. She
was pacing around the store, her pale face creased with worry as she ran her
fingers through her curly blond hair. As usual, she wore an abundance of
jewelry along with a swirly green dress, and s0 she rattled as she walked,
startling more than one customer. “Anything?” she asked of anyone who would
listen as she finished yet another circuit of the shop floor.
The Thorn Harbour Book Shop had been in the
doldrums until Mabel Blissbottom had bought it a decade ago. Since then, she
had worked hard to turn its fortunes around. Many other elves looked down upon
her for her career choice, but she paid them no mind, as the shop’s daily
operations gave her more than enough to fret over as it was.
One would have thought that a splendid day of
sales on Monday might have briefly set Mabel’s mind at ease, but she had found
another thing to worry about, and this one was with some justification. We were
almost out of the new Skybright book, and we still needed to get the orders
customers had placed by mail packed and posted, but the additional copies the
publisher had promised us hadn’t arrived.
“Not yet,” I said as Mabel passed a table near
the front door. Before her nerves had
driven her into the incessant pacing, Mabel had stacked the remaining
Skybrights on the table in an attractive yet wobbly arrangement.
“They have to get here soon!” Mabel clutched
herself in a fit of melodrama. “We’ll be ruined if they don’t!”
“Perhaps I should I prepare my CV,” I said
with a grin.
“There’s a library hiring somewhere, Alice?”
Priscilla Wentworth said as she walked past, carrying a small stack of Dilly
Dell books. “Or is it serving beers at the pub for you?”
I cocked my head as Priscilla set her books on
the counter. “My, aren’t we cheeky today!” I said to my co-worker.
“Just today?” Priscilla winked as she smoothed
out her black and red dress. She and I had become fast friends at Thorn Harbour
College, where I had majored in library studies. She had graduated two years
before me, and taken a job at the book shop; I visited there frequently, and
usually left with a book or two. When it was my turn to graduate, Priscilla
persuaded Mabel to hire me, as an opening had come up in the shop’s staff.
I had told myself that it would only be until
I had found a position in a library. I was still there, three years later.
“That reminds me,” Priscilla said to me as she
sorted through the Dilly Dells. “How is your Uncle Clarence?”
My face reddened. “I haven’t heard from him in
a while. He mentioned in his last letter that he hadn’t been in the best of
health of late.” Priscilla nodded and glanced away.
I had been born and spent my earliest years in
Odgley, but my parents passed away when I was in my early teens. I was swiftly
placed in a year-round boarding school in Thorn Harbour. This was due to my
uncle, Clarence Peavley, who lived on the outskirts of the nearby town of
Darbyfield. He preferred to not have company in his residence except for his
wife, my dear Aunt Loretta; he chose to make up for it in my case by financing
I was an only child, an avid reader and a
regular visitor to Odgley’s library. In spite of the sad circumstances that
brought me to Thorn Harbour, it worked out as well as it could. There was a
splendid library there, and fellow readers at my school who became friends, and
a college that was the only one on the Crescent Sea to offer a degree in the
profession of my dreams.
Clarence made it a point to keep up with how I
was getting along. He would make regular visits to the boarding school, and
then Thorn Harbour College when I started classes there. He was always a welcome sight, showing up
with some little thing to make student life a bit more pleasant, some baked
goods or a new gadget for my room. He always came to visit me and never invited
me to his manor, which struck others as odd. I was fine with it, as it allowed
me to see my dear uncle without the expense or hassle of travelling to do so.
I hadn’t seen Clarence since I had graduated
from college. Shortly after that, Aunt Loretta had died of a sudden illness.
Clarence retreated to his manor, and within himself. His letters to me, which
had been pleasingly long and frequent, dwindled to a few short notes. I still
persisted in writing him often, because I held out hope that the next letter,
the next anecdote I related, the next joke I had to tell would be the one that
stirred him from his melancholy.
My train of thought was derailed when the
shop’s front door opened. Mabel swooped towards the entrance, shouting,
“They’re here!” but stopped when she saw it was a customer. He glanced at her,
raised an eyebrow and hurried towards the adventure books.
“Well, at least he wasn’t scared off,”
“They’ll never get here!” Mabel grabbed her
forehead and spun about dramatically, whirling close to the table with the
“Careful, Mabel!” I said quickly. She veered
away from the table at the last moment.
“Alice!” Priscilla said sharply to me.
I raised an eyebrow. “How have I caused
“You might have startled Mabel. If she backs
into the table, it’ll come down like a house of cards!”
“And we wouldn’t want that.” I smiled. “At
least, not until tomorrow.”
“Cybelle told me about your wager.”
Priscilla rolled her eyes. “Bloody tattletale,
she is. Do be careful around that table, would you?
I chuckled as the front door swung open again.
A man carefully shepherded his charge inside, a girl with black bangs who
couldn’t have been more than four. Priscilla retreated to the counter as I
hurried over to the little girl. I adore children, at least for the first half
hour of our acquaintance. After that, their welcome wears thin, and I look to
hand them off to their guardian and escape silently. “Hello!” I said to the
man. “How can we help you today?”
“Well…” He gestured down at his daughter.
“Today is Lenore’s birthday, and I promised her that we would pick out a new
picture book for her bedtime story.”
“How marvelous!” I exclaimed. “May I?”
I squatted down and smiled. “Hello, Lenore!
I’m Alice. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
Lenore looked up at me with wide eyes as she
silently chewed on a mitten. “She’s a bit shy,” her father said.
“I like the shy ones,” I told him. “So,
Lenore, what do you want to read about? Puppies? Bunnies? Princesses?”
Her father discreetly cleared his throat. “She
likes adventures more.”
“Oh!” I said. “With heroes and elves and
automatons and dragons?”
My smile widened when Lenore nodded very
slightly. “I like dragons,” she said in a voice I had to strain to hear. “But
I’m a little bit scared of them.”
“I think we have just the book, then,” I said.
“If you could wait here for a moment?” The father nodded and patted Lenore’s
head. She continued to look around at the store and the other customers, acting
as if everything was remarkable and magical and frightening all at once.
I hurried over to the shelves that held our
selection of children’s books. We had several that were about dragons. The one
I chose told the story of Bashfa, who was rather shy and always tried to hide
in places where she wouldn’t quite fit.
I brought it back to the father, who thumbed
through it carefully. “Are there dwarves?” he asked.
“Here.” I flipped towards the back of the
He looked at the drawing on that page and
chuckled. “I didn’t think a dragon could hide behind that wheelbarrow.”
“Does Lenore like dwarves?”
“She does, but she’s a little bit scared of
“Of course,” I said. “There’s another book
where a group of dwarves gets into trouble, and a brave princess has to rescue
“Could I take a quick look?”
“I’ll get it for you. Did you want to show
this one to her?”
“That’s probably a good idea—” He glanced down.
“Where did she go?”
I looked around the store, and I was
completely unsurprised by what I saw. Lenore had toddled over to the table by
the front door, and was staring at the books plied there. “Oh dear,” I said
“Lenore!” the father said. “Come over here, my
She wasn’t listening. She started to reach
slowly towards one of the Skybright books. I was caught for a moment, trying to
choose between letting the table fall or seizing Lenore before that happened
and risk having her scream in my ear as a reward.
“Well!” I saw Mabel emerging from the shelves,
all a-rattle, smiling at Lenore. “What do we have here?”
Lenore froze in place. “Does she like elves?”
I asked her father softly.
“She does,” he said, “but she’s—”
“—a little bit scared of them,” I finished.
Mabel stopped in front of Lenore, hands on
hips, asking, “So what can we do for you, young lady?” Lenore lowered her hand
and started to chew on her mitten. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no
interest in cleaning up a book spill, and Priscilla would be rather peeved to
lose her bet in this manner.
The front door started to open. All of us,
including the father, turned our heads to face it. “Please let that be the
delivery,” Mabel said softly as she hurried past Lenore. She reached the door
and threw it open. A flicker of disappointment crossed her face. “You’re not
who I thought you’d be,” she said.
“Yup.” Grenzalt the troll stepped through the
door, his tools swaying from where they hung on his belt. “Sorry I’m late,
ma’am. Had a bit of an issue with a touchy spice rack.” Lenore stared at him
with wide eyes; she probably liked him but was a little bit scared of him.
“But why are you here?” Mabel said. “I didn’t
call you, did I?”
“I did,” I said quickly.
Mabel glanced with narrowed eyes at me. “What
“The table by the door.”
Priscilla spun to face us. “Alice!” she said.
“It’s been needing repair for a while,” I said
carefully. Dear Priscilla could have quite the temper at times.
Mabel nodded. “Well done, Alice. I’d let that
slip my mind. I’ve been so worried about the Skybright delivery.”
“But…” Priscilla bit her lip. “If the table
gets fixed, the wager is off.”
“Wager?” Mabel glared at Priscilla.
Grenzalt cleared his throat. “What table am I
supposed to be fixing again?”
I turned towards the wobbly table. “This—” I
started to say, stopping at the sight.
While the adults had been distracted, Lenore’s
attention turned again towards the copies of the Skybright book on the rickety
table. Just as all of us remembered she was there, she reached up with her
soggy mittened hand.
“Wait!” Priscilla shouted, seeing that she was
about to lose her wager. She startled Lenore, who waved her arm and struck the
stack of Skybrights.
The books toppled over, sliding into the other
stacks, sending them all to one side of the table. The extra weight caused the
wobbly leg to give way. The table
collapsed, and the books all tumbled off, piling up on the floor in front of
She was unhurt, physically, but the shock
proved to be too much. She started to cry, stopped, ran over to her father,
wrapped her arms around his leg, and resumed her bawling at a rather high
volume. I quickly dropped to my knees and covered Lenore’s ears with my hands.
“Why are you doing that?” her father asked.
I nodded towards Priscilla, who was taking a deep breath. She launched into a string of loud, detailed curses that would make a drunken goblin wince. From where I was kneeling, I could see that even Grenzalt was blushing. “She reacts that way every time she loses a wager,” I said with a sigh.
There was one positive to the whole situation
from my perspective. By the time I had finished reassuring Lenore that we
weren’t mad at her and everything would be fine, then reassuring her father
that we weren’t mad at him and everything would be fine, and finally calming
down Priscilla and cleaning up the spilled books, it was time for my lunch
I walked over to the fountain near the shop.
There was a small plaza that surrounded it, and food carts, one of which had
the sausage roll I purchased. I took a seat on a bench near the fountain, in
the part of the plaza that was shaded by the nearby airship docking tower, and
dug into my lunch with gusto, though sadly without mustard as the cart had run
I was surrounded by the familiar sights of
Thorn Harbour as I ate. Omnibuses, carrying workers to the site where the new
train station was being built, passed taxis rushing tourists to and from the
airship terminal. Across the plaza, the old tea houses and pubs battled for customers
with the new coffee shops. The fountain itself, which had been commissioned to
commemorate a dragon-slaying knight, featured a brass dragon statue, breathing
water instead of fire, due to an epic miscommunication, and that thrilled the
children who played there, though there seemed to be not as many of those as in
As had been happening more and more recently,
there were fewer laborers, fewer families, and more professionally dressed
people strolling by during lunch. The cities of the Crescent Sea had been
growing more prosperous, and one of the results of that increasing wealth was
that those with lower incomes had been pushed to the outskirts of Thorn
Harbour, or out of the city entirely. I was facing an increase in next month’s
I was starting to feel, in an odd way,
imprisoned. I kept sending out CVs every time there was a rumor of a
librarian’s position being open, but when there was a return letter, it was
always to notify me that the post had been filled. Since I was unable to find
the job I truly wanted, I had to stay with the book shop, and even though it
was a suitable job and I liked my co-workers, Mabel couldn’t afford to pay us
too much, which meant I was living on an ever-tighter budget.
Part of me was wondering if I could move somewhere, start over. But where could I go? And what could I do? I was actually grateful when I saw the delivery wagon go past, as it took my mind off that path of thought. I quickly finished my sausage roll and hurried back to the shop, to help with unloading the extra copies of the new Skybright book.
Cybelle had come in to work while I was
out at lunch. She had waited until I returned to cheerfully collect her
winnings from Priscilla, who silently fumed all the while. I was relieved when
Mabel sent me to the stockroom to work on posting the mail orders, for while it
might have been long and tedious work, it was preferable to facing Priscilla’s
withering glare for the next several hours.
We didn’t know when the post would be
picked up, so I worked as quickly as I could. I wrapped each book in white
paper and tied it up with string. I then started to paste our return address
labels on each one; the labels with the recipients’ addresses would be added
I was almost halfway done with the shop
labels when Mabel peeked into the stockroom. “Alice?” she said cautiously. As I
looked over, she continued, “There’s someone here for you.”
Mabel stepped away, and a middle-aged man
walked in. I thought for a moment that he was there for the post, as he held a
letter, but I saw he was wearing a business suit instead of a postal uniform.
“Alice Peavley?” he said.
“Yes?” I sat up straighter.
“My name’s Troutal. I’m here on behalf of
Beadle & Smoot.”
“What can I do for you?” I tried to keep
my expression calm, but my heart started to pound. Beadle & Smoot was a
legal firm, with offices across all the cities of the Crescent Sea and beyond.
“I’ve been asked to deliver this to you.”
Troutal handed me the envelope he held.
I glanced down at the envelope, then back
up at him. “Am I being summoned?” I asked.
Troutal coughed. “I was not briefed on the
contents,” he said. “I was just told to deliver this to you, and to let you
read it in private.”
“Ah. Thank you, then.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am.” Troutal tipped
his hat, wished me a good day, and departed.
I broke the wax seal and removed the
letter. I felt a faint sense of dread as I read the first paragraph. The
solicitors said that my presence was required in their office the following
morning at 9:00 A.M.
My mind was turning over all the
possibilities of why I was being called in as I finished the paragraph. Was
this some sort of bizarre job offer? Was there a mix up with the university,
and they thought I had a loan to repay? Was I being sued? I tried to steady myself
as I read the next few lines.
When I had, the letter slipped from my
hands and landed in my lap. I covered my face and wept.
Beadle & Smoot were calling me in to
discuss the disposition of the estate of Clarence Peavley. My dear uncle, the
man who had done so much for me, had passed away two nights before.
Chapter Two: Greetings And Goodbyes
I thought I had been weeping quietly, but
my co-workers could hear me. Mabel hurried into the stockroom, listened as I
choked out the story of what had happened, and did her best to comfort me.
Priscilla followed her in a moment later, holding me and murmuring soothing
words. Mabel immediately excused me for the rest of the day, and for the next
day as well; she would handle the Skybright postings after the shop closed. She
told Priscilla to see me home.
All of Priscilla’s anger, all the
frustration she had felt over losing her wager, had vanished when she witnessed
my sorrow. She led me back to my apartment, made sure I ate, and held me when
the tears came again. She refused to leave my side until it was time for bed.
I do not exaggerate when I say that it had
been one of the worst afternoons of my life. I am thankful that I did not have
to face it alone. I will always be grateful that Mabel and Priscilla were
there; no matter how much we may joke around and sometimes be cross with each
other, the friendship between us was strong, and I hope it will always be that
The next morning still came, as mornings
have a bad habit of doing, and I had to rise early because of my appointment at
Beadle & Smoot. I was still grieving, though my primary emotion was no
longer sorrow, but numbness. I walked to the solicitors’ office in a daze, my
expression blank. I wore a long black skirt with a matching blouse and jacket,
a far cry from my colorful outfit of the day before, and those who passed me on
the street saw my clothing and my red eyes and gave me a wide, respectful
I soon arrived at Beadle & Smoot, and
the staff there could not have been more understanding. There was tea waiting,
and muffins, and kind words. At 9:00 AM sharp, I was led into the office of
Anarbella Beadle, one of the firm’s junior partners. She was seated at one side
of a table, flanked by a human in a formal suit and an elf in a traditional
green robe. “Miss Peavley?” Beadle said as I entered. “On behalf of my
colleagues, I would like to offer my condolences on the passing of your uncle.”
“Thank you.” I smiled very faintly as I
sat at the opposite end of the table from her.
“These are Garton Menders, our financial
consultant, and Professor Larch Parklin from Darbyfield University.”
“A pleasure,” I said politely. I did
wonder why there was a professor in attendance, but a more pressing matter had
been foremost in mind all morning. “Ms. Beadle…If I may ask a question before
“How—” I had to stop to compose myself.
“How did it happen?”
“Mr. Peavley’s physician said that his
health had started to decline, but he was in decent shape for a man of his age.
He still took his morning walk every day, stopping to talk with one of the
residents of the manor. That resident realized on Monday that he had not seen
your uncle since Friday, and he notified the Darbyfield constabulary. They
found Mr. Peavley in his bed. The physician who examined the body said that it
had been natural causes, and that he apparently passed away as he slept.”
“Has he been laid to rest?”
“Yesterday, next to his wife in the town
I blinked. “Thank you,” I said softly.
Beadle nodded. “We kept a certified copy
of your uncle’s will. We’ve already acted on part of it, which involved cash
bequeathals to certain relatives and acquaintances of his.”
“It’s important that you understand this,”
Menders said. “The bank drafts have been drawn, and the funds have been taken
out of your uncle’s account.”
“Why is that so important?” I asked.
“Because of the terms of the will.” Beadle
slid a thick envelope across the table towards me. “There is another copy in
Beadle picked up a paper in front of her
and read aloud, “‘I, Clarence Peavley, being of sound mind and body, do leave
the specified sums listed in Appendix One of this will to the people listed
therein. The balance of my account at the First Bank of Darbyfield, along with
my estate and all upon it, and all my worldly possessions, I leave to my niece,
Alice Peavley, of Thorn Harbour.’”
As my jaw dropped, Beadle looked into my eyes. “Ms. Peavley, you are now the owner and master of Peavley Manor.”
The dazedness I had been feeling swelled
up, almost to the point of overwhelming me. Beadle continued to speak, but the
words barely reached my ears. Why had Uncle Clarence had chosen me as his
principal heir? Were there not others he was closer to? Why did he never tell
me? I vaguely heard Beadle mention something about a valet, but I was too
rocked by what had happened to notice.
“Ms. Peavley?” Beadle said loudly. “Are
you all right?”
I blinked. “I’m sorry,” I said as I
blushed. “This all comes as a great shock to me.”
“Perfectly understandable. Have you ever
been to Darbyfield?”
“No. Uncle Clarence generally did not care
“Are you familiar with the unusual history
of the town, then?”
I had to pause before I could answer her.
The unusual circumstances surrounding Darbyfield had not been well-covered in
my schooling, which focused more on ancient than recent history. I had heard
about the literary angle at university, during my library studies courses, when
several books found in the town were republished to wide acclaim. Beyond that,
all I had to say was, “Not as much as I suspect I’m going to need to be.”
“We thought that might be the case.”
Beadle gestured towards the elf. “This is why we asked Professor Parklin to
join us. If you would, Professor?”
“Of course.” Parklin turned towards me.
“If you were wondering, I am an instructor at Odgley College in the recent
history of the Elflands. I was in the perfect position to observe the
complications that followed the Great Relocation.
“Up until seventy-eight years ago, the
land where Darbyfield now sits was a stretch of forest preserve under the
direct mastery of Elfking Barkbirch. One fine spring morning, he decided to set
off for that preserve to engage in his annual viewing of the whippoorwills.
Instead of birds, though, he and his part were quite astonished to find a town
filled with rather confused humans. They claimed to be from England, a part of
the United Kingdom, and wondered if this was a plot of some sort launched by
someone they called the Kaiser.
“Some of Barkbirch’s advisors urged him to
send in the Elflands army to confront the townsfolk, but thankfully cooler
heads prevailed. Elfish sorcerers were called in, and an investigation was
launched that soon centered on the University of Darbyfield. It turned out that
a group of students there had been conducting some sort of magic ritual that
they hoped would open a portal to a place of joy and wonder they called ‘Soho’.
As they had no training in sorcery, and as magic in their England was scarce
and unpredictable, it came as no surprise that things went awry.
“It was evident that no one involved knew
what they had done, who had done it, how they had done it, and how it could be
reversed. Like it or not, the realm of Elfking Barkbirch now included a town
populated by humans. He was somewhat unhappy about this, until it was pointed
out that there was the possibility of increased tax revenue.
“This point was raised by the human we all
came to call the Great Detective. He had been retired, keeping bees on his
modest estate outside of town. When what had happened became apparent, the
council of Darbyfield implored him to lead the discussions with Elfking
Barkbirch and his advisors.
“An agreement was quickly reached.
Darbyfield would handle its own affairs. The elves would offer advice, but
would have no say in the final decisions. In return, a percentage of the taxes
collected from Darbyfield’s citizens would be turned over to Elfking Barkbirch.
And that arrangement continues to this day.”
“That’s all well and good,” I said, “but
what does all that have to do with me?”
Beadle glanced at me. “Peavley Manor is
more than a residence. Your uncle’s property includes a good deal of farmland,
where several families live and pry their trade.”
A rush of realization swept through my
brain. “I suspect that there is paperwork involved in the upkeep, then?” I
“There will be,” Menders said. “Unless you
were to sell off the property, that is.”
“If I may…” Professor Parklin leaned
towards me. “I daresay that the residents of the manor, and the people of
Darbyfield, are worried about what the future holds with Mr. Peavley gone. It
would help to reassure them if his heir were there to oversee everything in
I could see where this path was heading,
and I took a tentative first step down it. “If I were to move into the manor house,
would there be sufficient funds to cover it?” I ventured.
Menders pointed at the envelope. “Among
the contents there are the keys to the manor house and your uncle’s bankbook.
We have taken the liberty of updating it to reflect all recent transactions.”
I nodded as I opened the envelope and
removed the bankbook. I flipped through it to the last page with entries and
studied it for a moment. My eyes sprung open, wider than a goblin’s mouth at
lunchtime. “This total is accurate?” I said slowly.
“As of this morning.”
“No decimal point left in the wrong place
“None,” Menders said. “Your uncle held
numerous investments, which he sold for significant profits after his wife
“And all the bequeathals have been
“They have, with one exception,” Beadle
said. “We’re still tracking down one of the inheritors, a certain Reginald J.
Cheshire. His bequeathal is being held in escrow for now.”
I glanced down at the bankbook again. “I
suppose this might be sufficient, then,” I said, in what was perhaps the most
understated of understatements ever.
“The provisions of the will do call for us to lend any assistance that you might require,” Beadle added. “All you need to do is give the word.” I nodded as I stared absently at the bankbook. My head was swimming again, and while it was being silent, my heart was speaking up. I listened attentively.
“What?” Mabel’s mouth was wide open as she
stared at me, her body almost vibrating from the shock. I had brought her and
Priscilla into the shop’s back room to break the news privately.
“I’m leaving the book shop.” I chewed very
softly on my lower lip as I looked away. I caught sight of Priscilla, who was
sitting on the edge of a table, her head lowered as she absorbed what I had
“You can’t quit!” Mabel wailed. “It’ll
take forever to find a replacement!”
Priscilla sighed. “I’m sure that there are
a great number of underemployed library studies majors looking for work.”
“Mabel,” I said with the tiniest bit of
reproach. “I was hoping you’d be happy for me.”
“But I am! Inheriting a manor house in the
countryside with steady income…” Mabel waved her arms so fiercely that I
feared her bracelets would fly off and smite us.
Priscilla looked up at me. “Must you go
live in the manor?” she said softly.
“It was advised that I do so,” I said. “I
need to learn how to handle the financial matters and deal with the tenants,
and it’s best to be there in person to do all that.”
Mabel’s face lit up. “You could commute!”
I smiled sadly. “I think it’s a bit too
far to be workable.”
“Fine!” Mabel threw up her hands, her
jewelry all a-clatter. “I’ll just put an advertisement in the Times. I hope
they can read the form when it’s stained with my tears!” Her melodrama was
making me want to both giggle and cry, and my lip was bitten a bit harder as I
held both reactions back.
Mabel spun dramatically and strode out of
the stockroom. “Priscilla?” I said as she stood and started to follow Mabel. “A
“For what?” Priscilla said.
“I was thinking that after you were done
here today, you could come over to help me pack.”
“That sounds like work to me.”
“There might be takeaway fish and chips.”
“And a bottle of wine that I won’t be able
to fit into the trunks.”
Priscilla grinned. “Consider my arm properly twisted.”
It turned out that making the arrangements
was the easy part of relocating, as Beadle & Smoot had prior experience
with previous clients. They had boxes and wardrobes sent to my tiny apartment,
and scheduled a carriage and wagon to collect my possessions and me late
Thursday. I returned home and got down to the hard work of tucking everything I
owned away, books and dresses and the rest, for transport to the manor.
I took a break as night started to fall to
step out for the promised fish and chips, and they were ready, along with the
wine, when Priscilla arrived. As one might expect, there was very little
packing and a great deal of reminiscing, with laughter that came more
frequently as we worked through the wine. “Do you remember that one elf in the
rather fancy robe who came in last year?” Priscilla said as she set her glass
down. “The one who was too nervous to tell us what he was looking for?”
“Until Mabel went out for lunch.” I
chuckled. “You’d never think that an elfish noble would be looking for troll
“I know! It takes all kinds!”
“Still…” I stared at my half-empty glass.
“I wonder if it was more than a lark for him. Perhaps there was something in
his heart that he could never act upon, and he had to deal with it vicariously.
I hope that he was able to work through it, that he took whatever chance he’d
been denying himself.”
“Alice.” I looked up at Priscilla. “Are
you sure you don’t have something in common with that elf?”
“A hidden attraction to trolls?”
“No. Taking a chance.” Priscilla stared
intently at me. “You could just take the money and stay here. Why leave? Why go
I sipped my wine as I mulled over my
reply. “Places change. I like Thorn Harbour, but it seems to be becoming a city
for ambitious rich people. It’s lovely if you’re one of them, but it’s not for
“It’s not just places, is it?” Priscilla
“No, it’s not.” I shook my head. “I did
enjoy working at the book shop, and I could never had asked for better friends
than you and Mabel. But in a way, it’s stifling me.”
“It seems that all I do is work, read, and
overindulge in food and wine. It’s passable, but it’s…boring. It seems like a
dead end.” Priscilla nodded as I continued, “I’ve been wondering if that’s all
I’ll ever do with my life, especially since librarian jobs are so scarce. If
I’m ever going to find out what else I can do, what I’m capable of, perhaps I
need to step away from here and move on.”
Priscilla rested her fingertips on my arm.
“And what if things go wrong? What will you do then?”
“Return to Thorn Harbour and sleep on your
sofa until I find work.” I smiled cheekily.
I chuckled. “I haven’t even set foot in
Darbyfield yet, Priscilla, and you’re already expecting doom and gloom!”
Priscilla reddened. “I just want you to be
well and happy. I’m worried that this won’t work out as you expect it to.”
“You made a wager with Cybelle, didn’t
“Would I ever do such a thing?” Priscilla
folded her arms and glared at me.
“Early and often.” I refilled her wine
glass. “I assume there’s a time frame as to when I’ll be crawling back to Mabel
to be re-hired?”
“Cybelle said it would be within two
“Extra incentive to succeed, then.” I
stared at my wine glass. “Have you ever been to Darbyfield?”
“I stopped there briefly some years back
when I was traveling from Thorn Harbour to Odgley. It seemed like any other
“Ah. Do you remember if there were any
decent restaurants or bars?”
“There’s a steakhouse that’s supposed to
be quite good,” Priscilla said. “G.H. Wollenhall’s.”
“An idea is coming to mind.” I smiled.
“You do know there’s a public coach that runs from here to Darbyfield and back.
The last trip is quite late.”
“You’ll be using that to come and visit
the book shop?”
“Capital idea, but instead…” I refreshed
my wine. “I was thinking of having you and Mabel come with me to my new manor
tomorrow. You’d ride down with me and the movers. After I get settled in, we
shall pop over to that steakhouse for one last rousing celebration before my
new life begins. You can take that last coach back afterwards.”
“And who’s going to pay for this rousing
celebration?” Priscilla pointed a slightly shaky finger at me.
“You shall. With the winnings from your
wager when I’m still in Darbyfield after two months.”
I chuckled. “I hope whoever takes my spot
at the shop appreciates your sense of humor.”
Priscilla grinned. “I hope I can talk them into the wagers that you had the common sense to turn down.” I smiled as I lifted my glass.
When the feelings struck me, all I could
do was wonder why they had taken so long. It was Thursday afternoon, and the
packing was done. The movers who had been contracted to handle my possessions
were carrying my trunks of clothes and boxes of books down the stairs to the
coach. My landlord had arrived, and we had chatted briefly about my departure.
I had told him that I was moving to
Darbyfield on short notice because of unexpected family concerns. I chose not
to reveal my inheritance, as I suspected it would bring out his baser
instincts. I knew I’d had to deal with others acting on those down the road.
The movers had brought down the last box.
All that was left in the small apartment I had lived in for years was the
furniture that had been there when I first moved in. I checked around the rooms
one last time, to confirm I hadn’t missed anything, and walked to the front
door. The landlord was there, and he held out a hand and asked for the keys.
“The keys?” I said slowly.
“Right. It’s sort of the standard procedure.”
He tilted his head slightly. “Are you sure you’re feeling well?”
“Yes,” I said as I opened my handbag. It
was a complete and utter lie at that moment, as the enormity of what I was
about to do swept across me like a tidal wave striking a sandcastle.
I recalled the day I first took the
apartment, shortly after I started at university. I thought about all the
little frustrations and triumphs at my job. The
danishes at the corner bakery… I thought. Will they be as good in Darbyfield? Will the tea be proper? Will there
be fog in the spring and fall, settling in about me as it does in Thorn Harbour
when I’m walking to work early in the morning? Will the people be friendlier?
Will I be accepted, welcomed?
As I dug for the keys, I shook my head
slightly. I had come to feel that I didn’t quite fit in to Thorn Harbour, but
now that I was about to leave it, I realized that there were parts of the city
I would miss, things I’d remember fondly. To use that as an excuse to stall any
further, however, was ridiculous. I pulled out the keys, handed them to the
landlord, and wished him well. With that, I left the apartment for the last
time to start my trip to my new home.
I will admit, though, that before we set off to collect Mabel and Priscilla, I had the movers stop at the corner bakery. The raspberry danishes they had left over from the morning crowd were quite tasty.
It seemed fitting that my final stop in
Thorn Harbour was at the book shop that had been my place of employment and, in
many ways, the center of my life there. Mabel had my last wage packet ready,
and while it might seem that it was somewhat redundant, I wouldn’t be able to
access Uncle Clarence’s bank account until I went to the First Bank of
Darbyfield. Since I needed funds to pay for dinner and for a gratuity for the
movers, the wages came in handy.
We spent most of the ride chatting about
old times, laughing more often than not. There would be maudlin moments coming,
we knew, but those were for later, most likely with the third bottle of wine with
I had insisted on a seat by the window,
and I peeked out often as we went along. The route from Thorn Harbour to
Darbyfield started up a sharp hill before it reached a grove of elder pines. As
we snaked our way through the trees, I could see a family of elves walking the
opposite way, and I was reminded that we were now passing through Barkbirch’s
kingdom. For a moment, I was struck by the sense of history and tradition of
the Elflands, but that feeling passed when the coach was overtaken by a trio of
dwarfs in a clanky motorcar.
After an hour’s travel, the texture of the
forest abruptly changed. The trees were now oak and maple, and the afternoon
sun lit up the spaces between them. The road straightened out and took us
further up the hill at a gentle angle. “Are we there yet?” Priscilla asked
“Almost,” the coachman shouted from his
“Thank you!” Priscilla said with an impish
grin. “Alice? What do you expect it’ll look like?”
“The manor?” I said.
“It could be big!” Mabel said. “With a
great hall for music and dancing! And quiet corners to slip away to!”
“Mabel. Uncle Clarence never mentioned a
“You’ll have to build an addition.” Mabel
smiled. “How else will Priscilla meet a handsome stranger at one of your
Priscilla snorted as the coach turned off
the main road. “Handsome strangers are rather overrated.”
I chuckled as I peered out the window. I
could see an elderly man there, walking a goat on a leash, gaping at us as we
rolled up the turnoff. For a moment, I wondered if he was a resident of the
“Alice!” Mabel’s excited cry caught my
ears, and I turned towards her side window. I started to smile.
The coach was nearing a two-story
building, white and weathered, with ivy growing up the sides. There were two
wings that flanked a courtyard; the wing on the right adjoined a large shed,
with a small cottage next to that. The path we were on led to the shed, with
stepping stones marking the way to the building’s entrance. “Is this…?”
Priscilla said expectantly as the coach neared the manor.
“It is.” My smile nearly split my face.
“My new home. Peavley Manor.”
“Oh, you’ve named it after yourself
already?” Priscilla said.
“Cheeky devil, aren’t you?”
Priscilla chuckled. “If I had a house this
nice, I’d do the same thing.” We all laughed as the coach slowed to a stop.
The coachman opened the door and helped us
down from the carriage. As we stretched our muscles out after the long ride, an
older woman in a flowery dress approached us. “Alice Peavley?” she asked.
“Indeed,” I said. “You’re with Beadle
“Serina Quatrill, at your service.”
We shook hands, and I introduced her to
Priscilla and Mabel. “You’re here to supervise the transfer?”
“I am. It should be fairly
straightforward. Did you want a short tour?”
“Gladly!” I smiled.
Quatrill lead us to the courtyard as the
movers unloaded the coach. It was a grassy stretch, with a trellis arched
above. “You do have the keys?” she asked as we stepped onto the wide porch.
“Of course.” I had hand-carried an
overnight bag with me, which held, among other things, the envelope I had been
given at Beadle & Smoot’s the day before. I took out the keys and walked up
to the front door of the manor. I swallowed faintly, nervously, as I fumbled
with the keys and unlocked the door.
I stared into the darkness beyond the
doorway, not quite sure what to expect. Quatrill cleared her throat quietly.
“The light switch is to your left,” she said. “The generators were charged the
“Of course,” I murmured as I reached inside
the doorway. I quickly found the switch and flipped it upwards. I could hear
Mabel gasp as the room flooded with light.
The roomy atrium was illuminated by a
crystal chandelier which hung two stories above us. There were two flights of
stairs, one on each side of the room, that led to the second floor. Past them
were a number of doors, all of which were open enticingly. I stepped inside the
manor house, ready to accept their invitation.
“It’s beautiful,” Mabel whispered as she
and Priscilla followed me in.
“And roomy.” Priscilla winked.
I chuckled as Quatrill swept past us. “To
your right—” She gestured. “This door leads to the garage and a storage room.
You should inspect what’s there later.”
“And his motorcar.”
Priscilla’s jaw dropped. “Motorcar?”
“Alice now has the keys.” Quatrill moved
along. “This door leads to the kitchen. There’s a pantry built in, and a
separate wine cellar with temperature and weather enchantments. Next to that is
the dining room.”
She pointed at a door, and I peeked
through it. The dining room was small but well-lit, with windows looking out
onto the garden and two doors on opposite walls. “The one door leads to the
kitchen, I assume,” I said. “The other?”
“The drawing room. It’s the largest room
in the manor, and it’s used for parties and gatherings. The small room past
that is the parlour, for more intimate meetings.”
I rolled my eyes as Priscilla chuckled.
“And the door next to that?” I asked.
Without a word, Quatrill walked over and
swept the door open. It was my turn to gasp.
Uncle Clarence shared a love of the
written word with me, and would always cap his trips to see me in Thorn Harbour
with a visit to Mabel’s book shop. The end result was the library I beheld,
which took up nearly all of the wing. There were more than a dozen shelves,
rising up past my head, each holding hundreds of books, all neatly organized
and dust-free. In the center of the room, set near a welcoming fireplace, were
a lushly padded highchair and a matching end table.
I stepped into the library and glanced
about. Thankfully, there was still some room on the shelves for my book
collection, and I suspected that I would be trying to find a home for my
duplicates, as Clarence and I had somewhat similar tastes in reading. I walked
over to the chair, glancing at the table next to it.
I saw a book there, along with a pair of
reading glasses and an empty teacup. I looked at the book cover, and was hit
with a sudden wave of sadness as I saw the words “Rum and Bumbles”. The newest
book in that series about the misadventures of two pubsmen had been, I suspect,
what dear Uncle Clarence had been reading that terrible night. “Is everything
all right?” Quatrill asked.
I blinked and nodded. “Was there anything
else of note?”
“Yes, this.” Quatrill gestured towards
another table, this one set in an alcove between two shelves. “I wanted to make
you aware of this should anything come up.”
“A telephone!” Mabel squealed.
“Now, we can pester Alice any time we
wish.” Priscilla grinned.
“I shall have to hire someone to answer it
for me, then,” I said with a smile.
“Shall we see what’s upstairs?”
“Of course.” Quatrill led us up the left
flight of stairs. There was a railed landing that ran from the top of those
stairs to the right stairway; it overlooked the atrium below.
Across from the top of the stairs was a
set of double doors. “Which room is this?” I asked.
“The master bedroom.”
“I’ll bet it’s rather posh!” Priscilla
“How exciting!” Mabel exclaimed. “Will
this be your room, Alice?”
“I…” It took me a moment to put together
what I wanted to say. “Is this where they found Clarence?”
“It is,” Quatrill said softly. “It’s been
left the way it was.”
“I think I would prefer not to sleep in
“Of course. There are other options.”
Quatrill led us along the landing. “These are guest rooms,” she said as we
passed several doors, “but they’re a bit small. This one might be more to your
We stopped by the right landing, in front
of another set of double doors. “This was another guest bedroom?” I asked.
“Yes. It was intended for couples.”
“And Clarence’s favorite guests?”
“Let’s hope that none of them outstayed
their welcome.” I opened the doors and stepped inside.
The bedroom was perfectly clean, no dust
to be seen anywhere, but it still had a feel of disuse. The air was faintly
stale, and the wooden shutters were latched firmly into place. I was slightly
surprised by the lack of spiderwebs.
There was a king-sized bed on one side of
the room, with a fluffy comforter and a preponderance of pillows. I sat on the
edge of the mattress; it was just soft enough. There were tables on both sides
of the bed, an armchair across the room next to a drawer, and an armoire that
loomed over the other furniture.
I walked over to the shutters and threw
them open. I was rewarded with a view, in the first blush of twilight, of a
small, fenced-off balcony that overlooked a garden. “Marvelous!” I exclaimed.
“That’ll be a lovely place for summertime reading.”
“Of course,” Quatrill said. “There’s an
entrance in the kitchen.”
“Not through those doors?” I smiled as I
pointed across the room.
“Those are to the closet and the W.C.”
“Splendid!” I clapped my hands. “This will
be my bedroom, then. Please have the movers bring the trunks and wardrobes up
to this room and leave them outside. The boxes can be taken to the library.”
“Did you want them to start unpacking?”
Quatrill asked as I closed the shutters.
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll handle that
myself as I go.” I set the overnight bag on the bed. “Please make sure that
this is undisturbed.”
“Absolutely. Did you have plans for
“Well…would it be possible to arrange for a ride into town shortly? We have reservations at Wollenhall’s.”
The coachman did not require much
persuading to give the three of us a ride to Darbyfield. By the time we set
off, the sun had fully set. It was the new moon, so I didn’t bother with
looking out the window as there wouldn’t be much to see. I spent the trip
chatting happily with my friends, only pausing when the coachman announced that
we had arrived at the steakhouse.
G.H. Wollenhall’s had been recommended by many
a travel book, and it did not disappoint. The staff took the three of us to a
private booth and made sure that we never wanted for wine. Mabel was quite taken with the house salad,
but I insisted on the prime rib, and it was sumptuous, perfectly grilled. No
matter what else might come out of this new phase of my life, I had found a new
After dinner, and a splendid chocolate cake for
dessert, we were left with our third and final bottle of wine. I was inebriated
just enough to be getting sentimental, as were Mabel and Priscilla. “Must this
be the last bottle?” Priscilla said as she refilled our glasses.
“It has to be,” I said with a touch of
reluctance. “The last public coach to Thorn Harbour leaves soon.”
“I’m not leaving.” Priscilla scowled. “I’m
going to stay here with you and eat this prime rib for three meals a day.”
“You are not!” I said indignantly. “Mabel,
talk some sense into her.”
“She’s right.” Mabel burped. “You need to have
a salad once in a while.”
“As long as we have this wine, I’ll be fine.”
Priscilla lifted her glass.
“You two are so cheeky.” I half-smiled. “And
in spite of that, I shall miss you both so much.”
“Alice…” Priscilla stood up and walked over to
me. “You’re going to make me cry.”
“I know.” I rose from my chair and embraced
Priscilla. “I’ve been thinking the same thing.”
“Oh, Alice…” Mabel joined us in the embrace,
and I could feel her tears on my shoulder.
My smile was full and sad as we separated. “My
dear Mabel. My dear Priscilla. You both have done so much for me, and I shall
never forget it. You will always be welcome at my home.”
“You wretch.” Priscilla took a napkin and
wiped her eyes. “We won’t let you forget us. Just you wait.”
Mabel reached for her wine. “A toast?” she
“Of course.” I lifted my glass. “To new
beginnings and adventures, and to never leaving the best parts of the past
“To Alice!” Mabel said. “May she have nothing
Priscilla grinned wickedly. “To Alice being a
success here so that I can win my wager with Cybelle.” I could see Mabel
rolling her eyes, but we still touched and then drained our glasses.
“There’s a bit of wine left.” Mabel pointed at
“I shall claim that for myself.” I reached for
“You?” Priscilla raised her eyebrow.
“I have the right. I paid for this meal.”
“Very well.” Priscilla folded her arms. “But
Mabel and I claim the rest of the cake.”
“Seems like a fair trade.” I smiled as I
poured the last glass.
It could be surmised from this that all three
of us were thoroughly soused, but in truth, it was only me. Priscilla had
barely gotten drunk enough to be noticeable, and Mabel, with her elfish
constitution, was just rather weepy. All the same, it was a good thing that
none of us had to rely on driving a motorcar that night.
It was quite late when we finished our dinner,
and we had two cabs called before we left. One was to take Mabel and Priscilla
to the station where they would catch the public coach back to Thorn Harbour.
There were promises to visit before they boarded their cab, and more embraces
and tears, and as they rode away my heart hurt from knowing how much I would
My cab arrived a minute later. I could almost
see the driver’s jaw drop when I told her that my destination was Peavley
Manor, but she still brought me there without any incident. I was sure to tip
her generously, but I waited until she was gone before I stepped inside.
Even in my condition, I could see that the movers had finished and departed. The boxes with my books were stacked up outside the library. I staggered upstairs to my new bedroom and managed not to stumble into the trunks and wardrobes piled near the door. The overnight bag was still on the bed, and I had just enough presence to change into my nightclothes before the weight of the long day caught up to me. I slumped onto the bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.