The Gaslight Journal
Can't Go Home Again (Chapter
being attentive to where she was walking, Isabella Audley,
having collided with something solid, soon found herself
lying in the snow with the wind properly knocked out
of her, wholly unaware of what it was that had blocked
lay for a moment, stunned. 'I hope no one is looking.'
you up, miss?"
man stood beside her with his hand proffered, a group
of men his approximate age, just behind.
Audley, being a lady of privilege and the human condition--never
a good combination for one with her own mind--fought
the urge to be proprietous, although, she knew well,
that being suitable was indeed what had always been
expected of her. This divergence, however, seemed to
inevitably be her own undoing, much to the chagrin of
her poor mother.
you lose your eyesight in a horrible accident?"
she yelled, fully realizing that divergence had won
out, yet again. Finding her reticule, she hastily made
her way to her feet. In spite of her ire, she was not
foolish enough to pass up a gentleman's hand, even if
he needed a good lecture from a chapter in Our Deportment.
miss, I truly did not see you," said the man. A
low ripple of chuckles permeated the group.
she brushed the snow from her skirts, she was aware
of crimson creeping into her cheeks.
you had any sense of decency, you would be ashamed right
man deigned not to make any reply, but unable to contain
himself, said, "I suppose, the same could be said
of you, miss." He then tipped his hat to her in
an exaggerated fashion. When he saw her anger at his
statement, however, he knew an apology was in order.
should have been more careful. In fact, as a group of
gentlemen always on the hunt for a beautiful maiden,
we offer our most sincere apologies."
men murmured agreements while tipping their hats to
stared at the lot of them, but considered the man in
front of her. He was quite comely and tall, with mounds
of thick hair. His clothing tailored, his mannerisms
suggested a man of fine breeding; a gentleman. A smile
formed on her lips, for he seemed quite familiar, and
yet, she was finding great trouble in placing from where.
"Well, I will leave the judgment of the term gentlemen
for the higher courts, as it is a most questionable
modifier, but I accept your apology."
handsome man smiled in return, his eyes boldly engaging
her own. "Good day to you, miss; we needs be on
our way. And Merry Christmas to you," and with
that, the men moved to exit.
a moment," she said.
we not know each other?"
man, obviously taken aback by the question, was having
visible difficulty in hiding his anxiety at the question.
"Uh, no miss, I do not believe we do."
before Izzy could form a proper response, they took
their leave of her.
gathering her things, she continued. The snow crunched
beneath her high-heeled boots, making proceeding difficult
at best. She had decided to leave off the patens, hoping
to make better time. Blast the damp boots, and she had
arrived at her decision. Today was a day when the weather
was revealing itself to indeed, serve as a wonderful
new way to meet eligible bachelors without even trying.
she had not a care in the world of it and put the dark-haired
man out of her mind, vowing to think the matter out
when she could avail herself of more time to give it
was five days into the month of December, and her spirits
were high. She had not seen her mother since spring,
when Mrs. Audley had made a rare trip to see her at
Radcliffe. It was here that Izzy was completing an English
Literature degree. Lilly Audley had ended up staying
for the full week of spring hiatus that year, and Isabella
could not have been happier. Their small family suffered
terribly since Sir John had died of complications from
pneumonia, as Izzy was her parents’ only child.
while she was blissful at the thought of seeing her
mother again, she also knew the event would be bittersweet.
This would be the first Christmas that Izzy had been
home since his death, and she was determined in her
heart to make this as special for her mother as she
possibly could, knowing all too well that it would be
a near to impossible task.
fact, that was the very thing making her so late. The
line in Mrs. Jenkins's millinery was longer than she
had anticipated, but once she saw the Burgundy velvet
hat with the pale roses in the window, she immediately
knew this had to be Mother's special Christmas present.
It was one of those gifts that her mother would
never be caught buying for herself, which made it all
the sweeter to Izzy as she laid out the bills. She gained
pleasure from trying to picture the bliss on her mother's
face as she opened the most unexpected present.
I gift wrap that for you, miss?" came the question
that jolted Izzy out of her fantasy.
would be happy to gift wrap this for you if you wish.
Some beautiful new papers have just arrived that I think
you will like."
yes, that would be lovely. And please make sure to add
a nice gold ribbon. Mother does love gold during this
time of year," she said.
I will return straight away with your gift," and
the saleslady disappeared behind the velvet curtain
into the back room.
waiting, Izzy decided to further inspect the spectacular
stock of opulent hats. Each time she ran her fingers
over the long pieces of silk that hung draped from the
back of the brims, she was reminded of the times that
she came here as a small girl with her mother. Being
the only child also meant that it did not take much
convincing to Mother that little girls were always in
need of new hats. Hats were just as important to a woman
of gentility as the proper slippers and gloves. Mother
loved indulging in the purchase of both. Nothing was
too good for her daughter. She smiled at how musty show
rooms and snippets of tulle could evoke such rich memories.
An exquisite green hat then caught her eye, but a voice
from behind startled her.
it me to whom you are addressing?" Izzy said as
she turned around.
Do forgive me, but are you the Audley girl?" said
a huge woman standing an aisle over.
did not recognize her, but apparently the lady with
the blazing red hair in the peacock blue walking outfit
knew her. For a moment, Izzy had to analyze what she
was seeing to make sure that all of that behind, was
indeed bustle. She stifled the urge to laugh.
I ask who wants to know?" said Izzy, with a bit
of the bluntness on which she prided herself.
dear me, yes, you certainly may. I am Mrs. Arthur Tinsdale,
of the New York City Tinsdales. We moved here to Fairtown
just about a year after you left for Harvard. My husband
secured a professorship at the college, and I met your
mother in church one day. We literally bumped into each
other, laughed, struck up a conversation, and discovered
that we both had an insatiable love for gardening. It
was then that she informed me of her gardening club,
and so I joined. We belonged to that club for the longest
woman seemed to speak so quickly it was all Izzy could
do in her exhausted state to keep up with the story.
One thing Izzy did notice, was that the 'peacock lady'
had used the word "belonged" in the past tense
when speaking of the gardening club. How could that
be, when Mother would never quit that club, short of
hay fever or the second coming? When the woman finally
paused to take a breath, Izzy saw her chance.
do you mean, belonged?"
question caught the woman by surprise, and she said
with sincere sympathy, "Oh dear, I do hope I have
not been speaking out of turn. I just assumed that you
felt her face creep crimson again and her heart flipped
in her chest. She just knew that she could not listen
to this woman's inane ramblings any longer. Without
a proper dinner in her stomach, she did not possess
the strength to attempt to set this woman's syntax in
proper order, but yet her curiosity proved to be too
strong. Just as she found words to press for further
details, a short man with a moustache and cherry walking
stick called to Mrs. Tinsdale from the door, and she
excused herself, slipping out the shop as mysteriously
as she appeared.
she did so, the sales clerk returned with Izzy’s wrapped
package. She thanked her and made her way into the cool
night air, hoping to catch the Tinsdales, but as the
shop door closed behind her, she caught only the hem
of a peacock blue walking gown as it entered an awaiting
nightfall now, she did her best to put her disappointment
and the scary blue woman out of her mind by pulling
it back to the present. As she stopped to glance behind
her once more before rounding the last corner of town,
she drank it all in; the way the air tasted like ice;
the warm glow surrounding each lamp. She promised to
fully enjoy it another night.
mother knew she would be arriving and had Izzy not chosen
to give leave to Charles, her footman, so to indulge
in the brisk evening air, she might have arrived before
dark. She had no intentions of being so encumbered
with a steamer trunk, so she left it at the station
and made arrangements for a porter to deliver it at
a later time.
time on her walks home, she would play a game with herself,
imagining the people settling in for the evening in
their Queen Anne homes with the amber glow from the
lace-paneled windows. Were they stoking and banking
fires for long, cold nights that lay ahead? Were there
smells of imported spices, herbed breads, plum puddings
soaked in brandy, and warm cinnamon scones coming from
the kitchens? Were little girls already in their dressing
gowns, curled up under their favourite quilts with the
family tabby next to them trying to steal their warmth?
Puss! She had nearly forgotten him. He was the one family
member who understood a good nap. He had been hers since
childhood, and she was now fast approaching twenty-four.
crept in at that thought, and ruined her anticipation
of seeing him again. Why, she should have been married
by now. Everyone expected her to receive many offers
at her coming out party, but it did not happen. So,
all of Mother's society matrons decided that the next
logical place for it to happen would be University.
Is that not the sole reason women of her stature and
advanced age go to college? This situation, too, unfolded
in a different manner than expected, so what was she
expected to do? Stop listening to the matrons. She laughed
in an infectious manner at the thought of the group
being at Mother's one afternoon for one of their weekly
teas, when she informed them of her impending doom.
She was almost certain that at least three would pass
out from shock and need medical attention.
I should carry oxygen therapy with me to save time."
lights had begun to thin out now as Izzy continued on
in the tree-lined streets. She also noticed that tonight
there was not much traffic. So in the quiet, she settled
into a soothing rhythm with the click of her heels and
the beating of her heart, which she noted was unusually
loud and rather fast for the medium pace that she kept.
Her palms sweaty; her lips dry.
would not have anything to do with the pronouncement
of the peacock lady in the millinery, would it?"
she said to herself. "Of course not you foolish
girl. That is just the most preposterous thing you have
said to yourself all evening, and there have been some
wonders fallen from your lips. Why on Earth would there
be anything wrong, and Mother not tell you? For Heaven's
sake, you are all she has in the world now."
all of the reassurance she could muster at this moment
in time did nothing to stop her feet from picking up
the pace a bit. Nor did it do anything to alleviate
that ever growing lump of coal in the pit of her stomach.
recognized her street, and realized she was just one
block away, so she quickened her pace. Finally, she
rounded the last corner and could not have been happier
as her cherished childhood home came into view. She
felt her heart leap at its site, but quickly stopped.
family had always decorated Capriole to extremes for
Christmas. Mother and she made it a ritual to bathe
every window of the Victorian in the flickering light
of long, white tapers. But as she stood staring at the
windows, they wore nothing but darkness. There was no
hope of the season shining from within. There was only
cold, stark nothingness that barely hinted at signs
she commanded her feet to follow her body and move forward,
the closer to the house she went, the clearer she could
make out details of the porch. She remembered how it
used to proudly wear the scent of greenery over every
pane, every doorway and baluster of the elaborate porch
that encircled the house. But tonight, that very porch
also stood in blackness, lacking not only the usual
small lamp to light the way, but even a single holly
Mother simply decided to wait so they could decorate
together, as a family should? Stepping onto the boards
of the porch and taking time to briefly note their need
for a fresh painting, she decided this must be the only
logical explanation. Part of her wanted to believe this,
yet that horrible peacock lady's face crept into her
mind, and her hand shook all over again as she reached
for the glass doorknob. Taking a deep breath, she resolved
that no matter the situation, she would be adult and
handle it in the manner in which she would have made
Father proud. Pleased with her decision, she turned
the knob and entered.