by Kathleen Vesi
May 19, 1872—no audience will read what I am about to write. I know truths that only time should reveal. I have met people that no one in my lifetime should ever meet. And while I have given my word never to tell anyone what I have learned, my thoughts are racing! How else can I clear my mind except to write it all down?
Upon returning to Crestfall Estate, I immediately came here, to my desk, only sparing a moment or two to pour a brandy for my dear friend, Mr. Elton Thornborrow. I should—good, he has found the whole bottle. Cheers, Mr. Thornborrow, you need the spirits tonight. I, on the other hand, will not rest until I have told this tale in full, with all its twists and turns. And to think, it all began with a letter.
One morning, this past November, I received a letter that appeared to be written by the late Mr. Chadwick. I received letters regularly from Mr. Chadwick, he being an old friend of my father’s. Even now I still cannot find any fault with this particular letter. My suspicions were never triggered that an impostor’s hand had penned it. I treated the letter as a truthful correspondence from my father’s fine friend and so now, in my telling, I will do the same.
Mr. Chadwick wrote to ask for my assistance. A neighbor of his had passed away and the heir to the neighbor’s estate was a male cousin. As a consequence, the neighbor’s daughter and niece were left with little inheritance to see them through the years. The cousin offered the daughter, Miss Sarah Clarke, a meager income and the niece, Miss Gabrielle Londry, even less. Knowing there was a cottage on my estate, Mr. Chadwick inquired about my willingness to let it to the two women. I was hesitant at first, until I read of the women’s ages. The neighbor’s daughter was already thirty-one year’s old; the niece, thirty-two. If only they were widows, life might be kinder to them… but they had never married. No wonder Mr. Chadwick was pleading for my help.
The same moment I decided to let Hadley Cottage to the two ladies, Elton arrived and included himself at my breakfast table, as he does nearly every morning. Once he had made himself fully welcomed, with tea and biscuits, I gave him the letter. My mind was already made up, but second opinions can be reassuring.
“Many will think the cousin heartless, but he may not be condemned by all,” said Elton as he brushed biscuit crumbs off his vest. “If these two women were younger, they might have been seen as a temporary drain on the resources, as it is….”
He took another bite, and again crumbs down his vest. He frowned at the sight.
“I do love Mrs. Batten’s cinnamon biscuits,” he said. “You could not find a better biscuit in all of England… but why make them so crumbly.”
Elton is easily distracted and often becomes excitable over small details. It is really the only fault I find in him, although others may disagree.
“For you Elton,” I said, “I will ask Mrs. Batten to make less crumbly cinnamon biscuits. You were saying….”
“They will surely become long-term tenants,” he continued. “A man of your standing should show benevolence to these two ladies.”
I agreed, and right after breakfast we set off for Hadley Cottage for an inspection.
A week after I had sent my positive reply, I received the sad news that Mr. Chadwick had passed away. I never once suspected that his passing was being used by Miss Clarke and Miss Londry as an opportunity to reside at my estate. Had Mr. Chadwick remained alive, I would have found out soon enough that there was no neighbor, or daughter, or niece. I do not doubt that Mr. Chadwick’s passing was natural; he had been ill for many months. But I do believe that a good deal of research went into finding him and creating this elaborate plan.
At this moment I am tempted… no, I will stay the course. I will not mention time travel, or watchmen, or criminals from the future, but will continue to record each event in order of appearance, although there are those who are bound by no order. I used to think that Winter turned into Spring for no other reason then that was the order of things and it was meant to be. That Nature followed a routine set forth by the Almighty and no man could step outside the boundaries of His Divine Plan. No man! Or woman. A man as haunted as I clings to order, even if it is an illusion. Seconds will turn the minutes; minutes will turn the hours; hours will turn day to night. I will not relent order!
My new tenants arrived two months later. To set up introductions I thought tea would be best. Elton was my only other guest. I must confess, I did worry about Elton’s conduct, but my new tenants would know all about Elton soon enough. Living on my estate, they had no other choice.
Crestfall Estate has served as a refuge for Elton these past two years, ever since he married sweet Mary. Sweet, we now know, until the wedding band was secure on her finger. My friend is far from an expert when judging the character of a person, but how did such a brutal girl escape my critical gaze? Elton’s chief priority each day is to find an excuse to leave his estate for mine. Thankfully, Mary prefers an absent husband.
I fear I may share Elton’s fate in married life. In fact, Elton’s situation has steered me away from all thoughts of marriage. A bachelor’s life is not an easy life in this county, however. I am forever receiving invitations to dinners or balls or the like, so that eager mothers can thrust their daughters into my attention. Though I endure these matchmaking activities as any gentleman would, with patience and decorum, this does not change my view of courtship: that it is conscription, and thirty-five year old men are too young for that kind of war!
Before their arrival, I thought often of my new tenants and their sad lot in life. If only they had been left off wealthy. A wealthy spinster commands a certain respect; a poor one, none. At the time I believed I knew their title: the Spinsters of Crestfall.
What a surprise, then, when I first laid eyes on the Spinsters of Crestfall and discovered they were fine-looking women, beautiful, graceful, well-mannered: all the qualities a man would desire! I was instantly put at a loss for a reason why these ladies had not married.
The daughter, Miss Sarah Clarke, had the most sparkling of brown eyes and her lustrous brown hair was fashionably styled. She appeared to be a lady who made it her priority to know all the latest trends. Her cousin, Miss Gabrielle Londry, was taller and seemed, in contrast, to care little for fashion. Her wild appearance was the proof. Her blonde hair was only loosely tied up as if she was in a hurry or didn’t care if it fell down, for it looked as if it would fall down upon the slightest of breezes.
Once the introductions were made, we all took our places in my drawing room. Miss Clarke began the afternoon’s conversation.
“By letting your cottage to us, Mr. Crestfall, you have saved us from hardship. You have our sincerest and undying gratitude,” she said.
“I am eternally grateful for my uncle’s kindness,” Miss Londry said next, “and will never blame him for our difficulties. Still, I hope our stay here will return us to happier times.”
“Consider Crestfall your new home, Miss Clarke, Miss Londry,” I said. “You will always be welcome here.”
I then made mention of all the families in this county who would be eager to become acquainted with them. When I spoke of Mrs. Whilshire, I did not forget to mention her charitable works which I believed was useful information to both ladies who, no doubt, would long for such occupation. While speaking of Mr. Lamont, however, I refrained from mentioning his father, Mr. Lamont senior, who was forced to live with his son because of gambling debts. I had my wits about me there and left that part out altogether.
Of all the families and estates I spoke of, only one interested Miss Clarke and Miss Londry.
“We passed an estate on our way to Crestfall,” said Miss Londry. “Which of the families you spoke of resides there?”
“Oh, Ridge Manor,” I said. “None, actually. A gentleman resides there, a widower. He has three sons. I did not mention him because I do not know him.”
“Only that his fortune is new,” said Elton. “New fortunes are advancing steadily onwards. Our good families are being invaded. Poor Mr. Lamont senior!”
“Ridge Manor,” I explained, “was Mr. Lamont senior’s home until misfortune befell him.”
The two women nodded in sympathy.
“He lost his estate to gambling debts,” Elton blurted out, “and now lives with his eldest son. A very, very broken man!”
The county’s guarded secret out of the bag so forthright, thanks to my dear friend Elton. As my mind frantically tried to right the conversation, Mrs. Batten, my housekeeper, entered the room. There was a matter that needed my immediate attention she said (fortunately for me, and Mr. Lamont senior). I apologized for this abrupt ending to our first meeting and thanked my guests for their gracious company.
Once we were all standing, Elton finally realized his error in judgment for he then said, “Of course what I told you must remain between us. The Lamont family need our support in their time of need.”
“Yes, it is a sensitive matter,” I said. “And perhaps the reason why I have not properly introduced myself to Mr. Dibbens.”
“Mr. Dibbens?” asked Miss Clarke. “Is he the widower who resides at Ridge Manor?”
I responded in the affirmative, then excused myself to take care of the important matter waiting for me, while Elton went without delay to the sandwich tray and Mrs. Batten showed my guests out.
Just two days after the tea, Mrs. Whilshire paid a visit to Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. I was not there, of course. I learned of this visit from Mrs. Batten. It seems Mrs. Whilshire could not wait to meet my new tenants, or to invite them to her ball. I also found out from my loyal Mrs. Batten that Mr. Dibbens would also be attending the ball, a rare occurrence indeed, but this invitation came much later. During the visit, Miss Clarke and Miss Londry had inquired about Mr. Dibbens, and Mrs. Whilshire felt obliged to invite him. At the time, I thought nothing of this bit of information, but already a plan was in motion. Other forces were at work, and I was oblivious to them all. At least, until Mrs. Whilshire’s ball.
Mrs. Whilshire’s ball took place several weeks later. Although it is customary at a ball for the gentleman to ask the lady for a dance, some women, in particular Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Manville, Mrs. Cook, and Mrs. Pigeon, think nothing of asking me for a dance on behalf of their daughters. I had barely arrived at the Whilshire’s estate when I was obliged to take Miss Sally Pearce’s hand in dance. After more than an hour of nearly non-stop dancing, from one daughter to the next, I decided I needed a rest and left the ballroom. It was then that I found myself alone in the Whilshire’s garden room.
I was in the garden room for only a few calming moments when I heard the pitter-patter of feet coming ever-nearer. I thought I recognized the pitter-patter as Mrs. Broadbent and her daughter, Miss Alice Broadbent, so I found myself a hiding place behind a large fern and a statue of Apollo. I had only just freed myself from the dances and did not want to return so soon. Two women did enter the garden room, through the arched doorway, but it was not who I expected. It was, in fact, Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. I felt foolish then, hiding behind the fern, but since I could not come up with a reasonable explanation for being there, I did not make my presence known.
Though now I wonder why. Had I stepped away from my hiding place, I would have felt foolish but perhaps events would have played themselves out differently. And tonight I would already be fast-asleep, safe and secure in my bed, with the belief that I knew the world around me. What is certain, however, is that I would have never overheard the strange conversation between Miss Clarke and Miss Londry and would have never become suspicious of them. I would have continued to see them as respectable ladies from an upstanding British family, nothing more.
Once Miss Clarke and Miss Londry took their leave of the garden room, I went straight to Elton and insisted he return to Crestfall with me. I did not tell him why, but my agitated behavior caused him concern and he followed me without hesitation. I did not wait for the safe halls of Crestfall but told all to Elton in the carriage.
“When I discovered that it was Miss Clarke and Miss Londry I froze in horror because I thought I had been hiding from Mrs. Broadbent,” I said. “I stayed in my spot because I did not want them to think me too queer. I barely know them, and they, me.”
“You had no choice,” Elton said, leaning forward in interest. “But what did they talk about?”
“At first I couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were speaking too quickly,” I said. “And the manner in which they said their words was different, almost like Americans, but not an exact match.”
“Those Americans,” sniffed Elton. “They’re always copying us.”
“I watched their reflections in the room’s windows. Had they merely looked my way, they would have seen me. They were not at all like the ladies we had met at the tea….” I paused here for I was at a loss for words to explain the changes I had seen in Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. “They seemed blunt. No, I mean direct, and confident. Their talk was intense and bold and, I’m afraid, a little aggressive. They walked around the room so speedily, as if agitated, and appeared to be making an important decision. I was only able to pick out some of their conversation. They kept talking about a man named Penter; yes, that is it, Penter.”
“Penter? Sounds American,” said Elton.
“They need his help, and Elton,” I said, ignoring his interjection, “I believe they plan to kidnap Mr. Dibbens!”
My revelation shocked Elton, but only for a moment.
“Well,” he said, with all sincerity, “he is new money.”
“Are you mad!”
“They probably want Mr. Dibbens for his fortune and why not. He helped himself to Ridge Manor.”
“Mr. Dibbens,” I said, “bought Ridge Manor fair and square. Besides, it’s not his money they want; it’s his furniture.”
“Good god, Martin, you’re the one who’s mad! Why would anyone kidnap a man for his furniture?”
“They spoke of his five houses. Did you know he has five houses? They mentioned Mr. Dibbens’s numerous purchases of furniture for his houses. I do not know how it is all connected since their talk was too difficult to understand but I do believe they came to a decision that was agreeable to both of them. Then they began to talk normally again, like British ladies, and they mentioned how their great aunt in London must now fall ill so that they could visit her. Given the light-hearted tone they used when they spoke, and how they laughed, I suspect that they do not have a great aunt in London. I do believe they are going to meet Penter who must be the ringleader in this kidnapping conspiracy!”
At this point we arrived at Crestfall and the evening ended much as it has tonight, with Elton and I retiring to my library. Except that night I sat with Elton and not at my desk. We talked at great lengths on the subject of lady criminals and if we should warn Mr. Dibbens, with me being the only one in favor of doing so. As for making any more sense of the conversation I overheard, we tried but failed, although the brandy did not make our thoughts any clearer.
The following day, Elton was at my breakfast table before me since I had tossed and turned well into early morning before falling asleep. He had just poured himself a second cup of tea and was choosing a second helping of sausage and eggs when I walked in.
“Good morning, Martin. Bit of a sleep-in, I see,” he said.
I sat down at the table and waited for a continuation of last night’s discussion, but Elton took no notice. Instead, he carried on merrily with his breakfast.
“Elton,” I finally said, “I have let Hadley Cottage to two women of ill-repute. I was up all night sick with worry about it!”
Elton looked stunned at my outburst. Then he acted as if he needed several moments to think before arriving at my meaning!
“Oh that,” he said, his mouth quite full. “Remind me not to be swayed by your imagination whilst under the influence of Mr. Whilshire’s port. I have sorted it all out now, quite rightly too, in my opinion.” He then boldly made selections for his third helping of eggs and sausage!
It is not without some agitation that I drank my tea and watched Elton enjoy his breakfast.
“Well,” I said, once I discovered a fourth helping was not in the cards.
“Well, what?” said Elton in all innocence as he patted his mouth with his napkin.
“What,” I said, “have you sorted out?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he said.
Silence was my reply.
“If I must spell it out for you, then so be it,” he said. “Firstly, your imagination needs some taming. I suggest pastoral poetry—that should do the trick. And secondly, the only plans that Miss Clarke and Miss Londry have for Mr. Dibbens is matrimony which, given their circumstances, is prudent. There has been some talk of Miss Clarke’s and Mr. Dibbens’s growing attachment—I heard all about it this morning from Mrs. Batten while she served me breakfast. Once Miss Clarke has made herself the mistress of Ridge Manor, she will aid her cousin in any way possible. That I believe is the plan hatched out in the Whilshire’s garden room.”
As Elton spoke, my proofs of conspiracy dissipated one by one before my very eyes. The more he spoke, the more ridiculous I felt, and the more cheated of a good night’s sleep. Nonetheless, I was relieved to know that no harm would come to Mr. Dibbens on my account.
“They talked of furniture because,” Elton continued, “all women love furniture. They may have not seen a house so finely decorated as the Whilshire’s and were only extrapolating on how Mr. Dibbens kept his houses. As for this man Penter, I believe he may be the male heir of their family’s estate. Perhaps he has agreed to help them secure Mr. Dibbens.”
“One more item needs to be explained to me, then,” I said. “Why could I not understand the conversation between Miss Clarke and Miss Londry; why were their accents so strange?”
“They’re impostors—Americans, passing themselves off as British. Your father’s friend, Mr. Chadwick, failed to reveal this family’s country of origin. Perhaps Miss Clarke and Miss Londry are from the mid-west? I have met Americans from New York and they do speak quickly and form their words strangely. Americans further west, perhaps as the distance from the Atlantic increases, may speak quicker and stranger. It is a matter of geography: interesting, but no mystery.”
At the time, this made perfect sense to me. Elton may have been wrong, but his reasoning was sound. Given all the information I had then, I had no grounds for not believing him.
“I have never met Americans from as far as the mid-west before,” I said. “And I am not certain I would be able to understand them if I did.”
“Indeed,” said Elton. “Shall I order you a new breakfast, Martin? This one is now cold.”
As for my ever-faithful friend’s suggestion of a new breakfast, I nodded humbly.
Not long after Mrs. Whilshire’s ball, I came across my new tenants in my orchard. I was examining several of the apple trees that my groundskeeper had pointed out as diseased and in need of cutting down, when who should come by then but Miss Clarke and Miss Londry, walking arm in arm.
Upon seeing them, I felt a twinge of guilt. After all, I had thought the worse of them, and with no evidence.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Crestfall,” said Miss Clarke as she unlatched her arm from Miss Londry’s. “The air is quite cold today, but my cousin and I couldn’t resist a walk. We believe cold air strengthens one’s character. Do you agree?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. “Unless that cold air is damp, then I believe it best to remain indoors.”
“Perhaps that’s what happened to Aunt Lilly,” said Miss Londry. “She took a walk in air that was damp.”
“Mr. Crestfall,” said Miss Clarke, “we have some unfortunate news. My great aunt has fallen ill and has asked us to come to her at once. She lives in London; we leave tomorrow.”
So this was the trip to London that Miss Clarke and Miss Londry spoke of in the Whilshire’s garden room! I had been expecting this conversation.
“I hope your visit restores your aunt to good health,” I said, in no way swayed by my past belief that they were off to meet a partner in crime.
“We shall not be long, several weeks at most,” said Miss Londry.
“I am sure your presence will be missed by many here, but there is someone who needs you more. Good-day and safe journey on the morrow,” I said, then look my leave of them.
I felt confident that I had their ruse figured out. I was sure that these Americans posing as British ladies were off to visit their cousin Penter and that their subject of conversation would be Miss Clarke’s prospects with Mr. Dibbens. How wrong I was! But how could I have known? Today’s world holds no clues for such a tomorrow.
As I write this, I cannot help but note that the most pivotal events of my tale occurred just hours ago. That when I put on the tattered dinner jacket I am wearing now, it was clean and in good condition. Poor Elton is pacing my library back and forth in a daze. Morning is but a few hours away. I guess neither of us will find enough peace of mind tonight for sleep.
Earlier in the evening Elton and I were at the Henson’s for a dinner party. Also in attendance were Miss Clarke and Miss Londry, back from their stay in London with the report that their great aunt had fully recovered from her illness (Elton and I knew the story was fictitious but we kept silent on the matter, deciding that this information was no one’s business but the ladies). Accompanying them both was Mr. Dibbens. He had recently become engaged to Miss Clarke which was not a surprised to me or to Elton.
My first impressions of Mr. Dibbens were favourable. He was self-depreciating, never spoke inappropriately, and had many kind words for Mrs. Henson’s hospitality. Over dinner, he also told us many spectacular tales of his journeys abroad. Perhaps a little embellishing was taking place but no one cared. There had to be some truth to them because he returned to England a rich man. We were all impressed, including Miss Londry.
“Young men grow up dreaming of adventure, but for most it remains just a dream,” she said, after one of his tales. “For you, Mr. Dibbens, that dream became a reality, and you made your fortune, too.”
“True,” said Mr. Dibbens. “But I sought adventure first and fortune second. If it were not for the sake of adventure, I would have become a banker like my father.”
“Imagine my William,” laughed Mrs. Henson, “fighting pirates on the open seas!”
Mr. Henson chuckled heartily at his wife’s remark then said, “My dear, you would have more success in fighting pirates than me. Who needs swords when you’re a woman. They’d be begging for the plank just to escape your sharp tongue!”
All guests invited to one of the Henson’s dinner parties enjoyed the banter between Mr. and Mrs. Henson. It was no different for this dinner party.
I spoke next, once the laughter around the table had subsided.
“Mr. Dibbens,” I said, “now that you have retired from adventures abroad, do you see your sons following in your footsteps?”
“Two of my sons, that would be Michael and Edward, are scholars and spend most of their time buried in books,” said Mr. Dibbens. “My other son, Robert, is a businessman. He takes care of all my financial matters and practically manages all my estates himself. So to answer your question, my sons are not following in my footsteps—no, they are running in the opposite direction!”
That produced the longest laugh of the night and it appeared the party would go on much the same way and turn out to be a huge success. It was Miss Elaine Henson, Mrs. Henson’s niece, who steered the evening into stormy weather. Elton seemed preoccupied for most of the night, and Miss Elaine could not help but notice.
“Elton,” she said, “I have never seen you so quiet. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were not here at all but in Wonderland with Alice.”
Everyone enjoyed a good-natured laugh over Miss Elaine’s humorous observation.
Right-quick, Miss Clarke made her own remark, “More like Neverland with Peter Pan.”
Her remark was clearly meant to humour Elton and was said with kindness. But the smile on her face faded quickly thereafter and she looked down at her plate in all seriousness.
Well, I had not heard of Neverland, nor of anyone named Peter Pan, but I assumed it was another children’s story written by an as-of-yet-unknown writer. Mr. Dibbens’s reaction changed my opinion, however. The once good-natured man glared at Miss Clarke.
“Peter Pan?” he said. “Who is this Peter Pan?”
He spat out the name so maliciously that it was evident his feelings for Miss Clarke had changed. The room fell silent because of his behaviour; everyone was too stunned to speak.
“We met a young man in London… I cannot recall his name at the moment,” said Miss Clarke, raising her head once more, her face flushed.
“He told us the most remarkable story about a boy named Peter Pan,” said Miss Londry, coming to her cousin’s defense. “He says someday he will write a play about this character.”
Mr. Dibbens turned to Miss Londry and looked at her with the same loathing he had for Miss Clarke.
“Must have been a very young boy,” he said.
“I don’t know… maybe twelve, thirteen-years-old. He was visiting
London with his family,” said Miss Londry, matching Mr. Dibbens’s intense gaze.
“I do believe he will grow up one day to become a great writer. I look forward
to reading his work in the future.”
“Well… well,” said Mrs. Henson, quite flustered.
“Excellent suggestion, my dear,” said Mr. Henson. “Let’s make our way to the drawing room for some refreshments.”
We all gratefully stood up from the table and headed for the drawing room, with Mrs. Henson offering a sympathetic arm to Miss Clarke.
After witnessing the terrible conflict, I believe everyone was of the same opinion: this Mr. Peter Pan was not a character in a young man’s imagination, but a rival, perhaps even Miss Clarke’s lover, and the match between Mr. Dibbens and Miss Clarke was off (everyone having forgotten the part about Neverland, such was the stress over the whole affair).
Poor Miss Clarke never did make it to the drawing room. She was so overcome with distress that she fainted in Mrs. Henson’s arms and needed to be carried to a chair. And here I was finally able to be of help. I signaled for my carriage to be brought around and bid Miss Clarke and Miss Londry to take it. I, myself, saw them out.
Mr. Dibbens made motions to leave as well but was forced to stay by a now stern Mr. Henson. Mr. Dibbens did remain in our company, but showed great displeasure over it. Gone was the friendly-faced man who had such complimentary words for all the ladies. He looked at everyone so shiftily, his mouth frozen in a sneer, as if he suspected us all in some great conspiracy. No one could draw him into conversation, and he refused all refreshments, preferring to stand apart.
Mr. Henson could only keep Mr. Dibbens there for so long before he insisted on leaving. My carriage had not returned yet, but I too was eager to leave. I wanted to ensure that Miss Clarke and Miss Londry were well-protected if Mr. Dibbens dared to show up at Hadley Cottage. Mr. Henson was of the same mind for he insisted I borrow his carriage, and I graciously accepted the offer. Of course, Elton joined me.
Not long after we began our journey to Hadley Cottage, our carriage came to an abrupt halt and I could hear another carriage slowing down on the road ahead of us. I looked out to discover that the other carriage was my own. Elton and I left our carriage to enquire about the condition of Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. My driver, Tom Grange, told us the disturbing news.
Tom did see Miss Clarke and Miss Londry safely back to Hadley Cottage, but then they insisted on being taken to another destination. Remembering my instructions to ensure the safety of both ladies, he agreed. Miss Clarke and Miss Londry were in the cottage for quite some time. When they finally did emerge, they were each carrying a small trunk which they insisted on loading into the carriage themselves. Then they told Tom where they wanted to go: Ridge Manor! Tom did as he was told and drove them to Ridge Manor. When we came upon him just now, he was returning to the Henson’s to tell me all about it.
“Poor Miss Clarke—she must believe she can win Mr. Dibbens back,” said Elton. “And Miss Londry must be helping her. We must stop them, Martin. Mr. Dibbens’s behaviour tonight was cruel and offensive. Who knows what else he is capable of.”
“Miss Clarke and Miss Londry may not realize the danger they are in,” I said. “They are ladies. Men like Mr. Dibbens are beyond their experience. We must go to Ridge Manor to ensure that they are safe.”
I nodded in gratitude at the Henson’s driver then switched to my carriage, with Elton right behind me. And, once we were properly turned around, off we sped to Ridge Manor.
Upon arrival at Ridge Manor, I did not intend to hide my presence, but the commotion around the estate forced me to reconsider. It sounded like a mob had take over the manor and were tearing it apart. Elton and I decided to slip into the stables to observe in secret what was happening. But first I instructed Tom to ride out a ways, into the shadows, so that he and the carriage would not be seen.
The building that housed the stables was long and narrow, and was partly lit that night by the light of the full moon coming in through the windows. Once fully inside, I expected to be amongst horses, but the horses were not there! The building was entirely cleaned out, with no fencing or any sign of animal habitation whatsoever. Instead of horses there were wooden crates of various sizes, some placed on top of one another. The crates were stocked in uneven rows close to the walls. The arrangement was a little haphazard, but the middle area was clear.
I negotiated around several rows of crates to gain access to a window that looked out onto the courtyard. The commotion was coming from the other side of the courtyard some distance away. I could make out the carriage house there, looking silvery and somber in the moonlight. With help from the moon and the dim, flickering light from lanterns, I could also see the shadowy figures of men carrying large objects, perhaps crates, out of the carriage house and into the manor.
“There are many men out there—here, behind these crates, or else we may be seen from the windows,” I said to Elton, and motioned where I wanted him to go.
Once behind a row of crates, I started to inform Elton of my plan to enter Ridge Manor undetected.
“I know a secret entrance—”
I stopped right then because I had heard the main stable doors open and two voices speaking, albeit in whispers. We sank further behind the crates and waited, but the two persons talking did not leave. I thought the men from the other side of the courtyard were now coming over to move these crates and that it would only be a matter of time before we were discovered, unless we could escape out a back door. But first I wanted to see who we were up against and how far away they were in relation to our hiding spot.
Two men, that is what I saw upon first glance. One of the men was in the shadows; the other had his back turned to me. My second look was longer, for I felt hidden enough in the darkness to linger. I discovered that the men were a good length’s away. They were opening one of the crates. If the other man turned his back as well, I knew we could make our get-away. Elton moved beside me to have a look and I motioned with my hands the escape plan. He nodded in full understanding.
Waiting for the moment when the second man would have his back to us, I took notice of the two men’s clothing. As far as I could tell, their outfits were identical. In fact, they appeared to be uniforms of some kind, much like a police officer’s, though different from any police officer’s uniform I had ever seen. They were examining the contents of the crate they had opened. These men were not at all like the men I had just seen on the other side of the courtyard who I could tell were common workers. These men looked distinguished and were avoiding the windows, much like Elton and I had.
All this together made me believe that they were indeed police officers, perhaps from America, and that they were conducting a secret search. I suspected that Mr. Dibbens’s dealings in business were not wholly honorable. I lost all fear of the men, then. In fact, I decided I needed to tell them that two ladies were in danger of being harmed by the very criminal they were investigating. I looked over at Elton and saw he felt the same.
Together, we stood up and walked away from our hiding place.
At that exact moment, the man in the shadows stepped into the moonlight… and lo! it was Miss Londry!
Miss Londry appeared both masculine and authoritative in that uniform. Her hair was no longer up but loose around her shoulders and a little disheveled. I found the sight quite disconcerting. I had never before seen a pretty lady, such as Miss Londry, looking so unkempt and mannish.
Seeing Miss Londry in men’s clothing, I realized that she was the one who had a lover and that the man with his back to me was Mr. Peter Pan. No wonder Miss Londry disguised herself as a man: she had to warn Mr. Pan of Mr. Dibbens’s wrath. Miss Clarke would obviously be at the manor explaining to Mr. Dibbens the error of identities. I felt rather foolish then, thinking that neither lady needed my help and that I had disturbed a private moment.
This realization expired in the next moment, however. For that was when the man with his back to me turned around, and he was not a man at all, but Miss Clarke!
Gone were Miss Clarke’s shining brown locks, and that was the greatest upset for me. Her hair was short, short as any boy’s—clearly, she had been wearing a wig. If my eyes remained on her tiny face, I could see her for how I knew her, as a cultured, fashionable lady, but if I took in her appearance as a whole I lost her utterly to a manly image.
Well, dare I say, I felt vindicated. They were lady criminals after all! Of course, they were in the stables to await their accomplice, Penter. Though right after I thought this, I doubted myself, for the sole reason that I could not understand why thugs, even if they were lady thugs, would dress in uniforms.
I do not know who was more stunned, them or us. It was Miss Clarke who acted first. She took several steps in our direction, her hand outstretched, and said, “You weren’t supposed to see this, I’m sorry.” The tone of her voice was familiar, even if the accent was not.
“Sarah,” said Miss Londry. “Three men approaching. Hawkley, Den, and Green.”
Miss Clarke caught up to both Elton and me and gently directed us to hide behind a row of crates. Then she knelt down beside us. She was so close to me that we were nearly touching, but she seemed oblivious to the impropriety of it all. I did not know where to place my eyes. I looked across the way, only to see Miss Londry kneeling behind another row of crates, with no thought as to how she was presenting herself to me. I quickly diverted my eyes away from her and found myself staring at the crest on Miss Clarke’s sleeve. In yellow and red stitching, it read: Arte Factum Watchmen, 97th Division.
I did not know of any criminals who made themselves uniforms or who organized themselves into divisions, but I understood that this was the way police officers managed their affairs. So I relented to my first opinion: that they were police officers from America. Arte Factum, I understood, was Latin for artefact and so I quickly deduced that these women were, in fact, investigating Mr. Dibbens for stolen property, perhaps objects that had historical value. What I did not know was why Americans allowed women to join their police forces!
“I want you two to remain here, in hiding,” whispered Miss Clarke. “The men in this place are dangerous. Gabe,” and she motioned to Miss Londry, “and I will come back for you once this is all over. Agreed.” She looked at me first, those large brown eyes showing such familiar kindness, and waited till I nodded in agreement. Then she looked over at Elton who also nodded.
“Sarah,” Miss Londry warned, and Miss Clarke turned her attention to the far end of the building.
The stable doors were opened and yellow light from lanterns flickered through the room. A man then spoke. His speech was quick, but I understood him.
“Once the carriage house is cleared out, we’ll start in here,” he said.
“What about those cops,” said another man.
“Just move the damn goods, and let me worry about the cops,” the first man said.
I understood the word ‘cops’ to mean Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. They understood the same for when that man made his threat, they smiled at each other. I believe they found the threat amusing!
“Boss,” said a third man, and I heard the lid of a crate being slid across its box. “This crate is open. The cops have been—”
And that was the moment when time slowed for me so that I could observe what happened next in absolute awe. I never imagined a future like this. Yes, I have had a glimpse of the future, and it has turned my world upside down, topsy-turvy. But I accept the changes. So be it, I say! Change is inevitable; change is natural. Everything changes, right Mr. Darwin?
Miss Clarke glanced over at Elton and me, then turned to Miss Londry and nodded.
Both women then sprang from their hiding spots and ran down the length of the stable.
Three strides along, they leapt over the one lone crate that was in their path.
A few strides more, they both pulled back an arm, fists clenched, and then—
And then they each struck a man!
At which point both Elton and I jumped to our feet and exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
Time returned to normal then, and the action became short and quick.
Miss Londry had hit her first target’s face so hard that he fell to the ground in agony, his hands to his face. Her next adversary lunged at her. Since he was not struck first in the ambush, he was ready for a fight. This man did not seemed surprised or troubled to be exchanging blows with a woman. In fact, he appeared determined to hurt Miss Londry. Back and forth they hit each other, sometimes with punches, other times with kicks. They crashed into crates and threw each other to the ground so many times that I was amazed with how well they endured each other’s punishment, not to mention astounded to learn that they were an equal match. Before this, if someone were to tell me that they admired a woman for her fighting skill, I would have thought them outright mad and a poor judge of character. Now I am not so sure!
All the while, Miss Clarke was fighting her own battle. Her foe proved no match for her power, despite his enormous frame. She delivered several forceful punches to the man’s upper body and head, and the next thing I knew, he was knocked completely senseless, his huge bulk collapsing across a row of crates. A tiny woman like Miss Clarke taking down a man so large and threatening—I was gaping at the sight!
It was around this time, however, that the first man knocked to the ground (by Miss Londry) overcame his pain. He rose to his feet, a little unsteadily, took in all that was occurring, then shouted loudly.
There was a moment of silence on the other side of the courtyard, as the men there ceased their noisy activities. Then came a shout, then more shouts, and then I could hear the sound of many men running in our direction.
Miss Clarke turned her attention to this man.
“You’ll never get out of here alive,” he sneered.
I saw a flicker of fear cross Miss Clarke’s eyes. But just as quickly as it came, it was gone. Miss Clarke glared at the man so fiercely that he stopped his sneering. For the moment, it was still her against him, and he did not like those odds. So off he ran, in the direction of the main entrance. But Miss Clarke would not let him get away so easily. She sprinted after him at great speed. Then, just as quick, up she leapt onto a stack of crates to head him off. After several leaping steps across the rows of crates, she became airborne and hurled herself on top of the coward to stop him from making good his escape. Down to the ground they both fell, but Miss Clarke was soon on her feet with the sniveling man in her grasp. With one powerful blow, she rendered the man unconscious.
It was around this time that Miss Londry had finally succeeded in incapacitating her opponent. He, too, lay unconscious on the ground.
Elton and I had watched the fighting with a strange mix of feelings, from trepidation to exhilaration. When we weren’t gasping in alarm or cheering the successes, we were fretting over our inaction. We made several attempts to join the action, but each time we were forced back by the intensity of the fight. We just could not gain access to the men: they were so well-attended to by Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. When the ladies proved victorious against the three men, we reacted like any thrilled spectator would: we clapped.
The victory was short-lived, however, for it was then that the men from the other side of the courtyard arrived and one by one they entered the building and picked a target, either Miss Clarke or Miss Londry. Both women accepted the challenge and defended themselves as best they could, despite the fact that they were outnumbered. This time Elton and I did not stand back and idly watch. Finally, we were able to prove ourselves useful.
Elton is solely responsible for clearing off of Miss Londry three men who were beating her near-senseless; first by pulling one man off of her and throwing him into a pile of crates and second by hitting the other two over the head with a crate lid. He then helped Miss Londry to her feet, and side by side they took on the new threats that had quickly taken the place of the old ones. I, on the other hand, stood back to back with Miss Clarke and fended off any man dishonourable enough to attack her from behind.
More men continued to arrive and it appeared it would only be a matter of time before we were completely overtaken and the fight lost, but suddenly there appeared one, then two, then more than I could count… men and women wearing the same uniforms as Miss Clarke and Miss Londry! In seconds, the tables had turned and our fight was over. The blue uniformed officers surrounded our opponents and one by one pushed them face first down onto the ground. The prostrated men’s arms were then placed together, behind their backs, at which point a silver, rope-like object was clasped onto their wrists, rendering them helpless.
I was too busy watching the mass arrests to pay any mind to Elton. Only when I heard a yelp did I look his way, and then I found him on the ground with his hands behind his back and an officer preparing to place one of those silver ropes on his wrists! Miss Londry reacted before I had a chance. She ran over to them both and said one word to the officer, “Natural.”
The officer responded to that word, although it held no significance for me. He hoisted Elton back onto his feet and brushed the dirt off of his evening coat. Well, Elton did not know what to make of that! Nor of the officer’s behavior.
“Whoops,” the officer said. “But I don’t have to write this report, eh Reed.” He then winked at Elton and went on his way.
“Ha, ha, Healy,” said Miss Londry, but then she winced in pain and touched her jaw.
“How dare you!” Elton said. “I am not a common criminal! I’ll have you know I am a Thornborrow, one of the most established families in this county!”
“Our apologies Mr. Thornborrow. That will not happen again,” said Miss Clarke.
Elton looked appeased. He then tried to bend down to dust the dirt off his pant legs but immediately stood upright again and placed his hands gingerly on his side.
Looking in Miss Clarke’s direction, I noticed a lady officer standing right behind me. I believe I almost made a trip to the floor. She smiled at me when I looked her way and I bowed, although only slightly for my whole body was gripped with pain.
“If you need any help with that report, Lewton,” said the lady officer to Miss Clarke, “Just give me a call.”
Miss Clarke took the comment as humorous and attempted a smile but was in too much pain to achieve it. For some reason a report had to be written and it was all very funny, but I did not understand why, nor did I care at the moment.
“I’ll go get the medics,” the officer said, and Miss Clarke nodded.
The four of us maneuvered our way out of the building, limping and side-stepping around outstretched bodies and overturned crates. I examined some of the opened crates as I moved past them and discovered their contents, although I should have guessed it long ago. They contained furniture of all kinds, from tables and chairs to dressers and wardrobes.
The courtyard was well lit up now by numerous lanterns hung from long poles. What struck me then was how many officers were in the courtyard. I was also struck by the heritages of these officers. Not only were there an equal number of men and women, but there appeared to be representatives from all the countries of the British Empire. This made be believe that this police force was not American after all, but British.
“All the cultures and races of our Empire seem to be represented here. Is this Her Majesty’s secret police force?” I asked Miss Londry who was standing beside me.
Miss Londry smiled and that was a brave act on her account. One of her eyes was completely swollen over and her lips were cut and bloodied.
“Something like that,” she said weakly.
Someone touched my arm then. It was a lady officer and she was gliding a circular object over my arm and shoulder. The object was small and white in color; it also had blue lights on its sides which flashed on and off repeatedly. Wherever the instrument was positioned, that part of my body erupted in an odd, tingling sensation, then the pain there ceased, as if I had not been injured there at all!
“Martin!” said Elton. “What is he doing!”
I looked over at Elton and found an officer using a similar device on him.
“I think he is a doctor,” I said. “We are being healed.”
My straightforward response hid my bewilderment over the extraordinary manner in which we were being healed. I could only reason that England had once again beaten other countries in the race for technological advancement, but this reasoning was not at all satisfactory to me for the advancements seemed too unattached to anything I knew to be natural and logical. I could not make sense of it, so I pushed it out of my mind altogether.
“My God!” said Elton. “My injuries….”
Elton stopped speaking the moment he saw Miss Londry. I, too, stared at Miss Londry in wonder. Gone were her swollen eye and her cut lips. And the large bruise on her jaw had completely disappeared.
“I…,” I began.
“I know,” she said. “You have many questions. We will answer them.”
“Well, some,” said Miss Clarke who appeared by Miss Londry’s side. She too had recovered from her injuries; only her dirty uniform proved that she had been in a fight. “How do you both feel?” she asked.
Elton patted his chest and rib cage; I moved my shoulders, but felt no pain.
“Fully restored!” Elton said.
I turned to thank the officer who had tended to me but she was gone.
“Good,” said Miss Londry.
“Mr. Crestfall,” said Miss Clarke, “I believe you’re familiar with Ridge Manor. Do you know of any secret rooms? We’re having difficulty finding the leader of this operation.”
“Isn’t there a trail of furniture leading the way?” asked Miss Londry.
“No,” said Miss Clarke. “Artefacts are scattered everywhere. To top it off, our sensors are being blocked.”
I did not know what sensors were, but I assumed they were special instruments to detect secret rooms. Sensors might have proven useless here, but I had something of value to the officers, beyond any of their bizarre devices: my personal experiences.
“I do know of a secret room. Mr. Lamont showed it to me years ago,” I said. “The room is located on the manor’s top floor but only one passageway leads to it. That passage can be accessed from outside. Over there.” I pointed to the west side of the manor.
“Do you really think Stanton will still be there?” said one of the officers who was listening to our conversation. “He has had nearly thirty minutes to vacate this place.”
“Oh, he’ll be there alright,” said Miss Clarke.
“The greedy are always the last to leave,” said Miss Londry.
“Alright, Parker, Vittori, Razza, and Hoy, go with them,” said another officer who appeared to be a superior. “Oh, and Reed and Lewton, remember, you’re writing this report.”
Everyone found this last comment highly amusing, including Miss Clarke and Miss Londry, who I had already deduced were using false surnames.
“Come on,” said Miss Londry. She motioned me to take the lead. “I need more for my report.”
By this time I had also deduced that Elton and I were the reason why this report had to be written.
We hastily made our way to the west side of the manor, and there I showed the officers the door to the passageway. Elton and I were instructed by Miss Londry not to follow, but to remain at the entrance. However, once all the officers had entered the passageway and some moments had passed, we could not resist going up after them.
We caught up to the officers at the very top of the passage, just steps from the door that lead to the secret room. All the officers, including Miss Clarke and Miss Londry, looked our way when we approached, but none seemed surprised to see us there.
Miss Clarke moved up the last few steps and slowly opened the door. Inside the room, a man was standing beside a waist high pillar which on its flat top had many colorful, blinking buttons. His back was turned to us, so he was unaware of our presence. And in front of him—a very odd machine. It took up nearly the whole room and had many pipes and gadgets, their purpose and function all mysteries to me. In the centre of this machine was a large silver-colored cylinder which nearly reached the ceiling.
There was another man in the room. He had just placed a crate into the cylinder. Then he shut the cylinder’s door (if that is what I can call it) and stood back. The man at the pillar then pressed several of the blinking buttons and I heard a terrible noise. When the terrible sound ceased, the second man opened the cylinder door and the crate was gone!
At this moment Miss Clarke gave the signal to enter the room and the officers converged on both men. The element of surprise had a hand to play in the smooth takeover. Both men were pushed to the floor and silver ropes were fastened to their wrists. When both men were placed on their feet, I could not believe my eyes: one of them was Mr. Dibbens! Although he was not addressed as Mr. Dibbens.
“You just had to get one more load in, didn’t you Stanton,” said Miss Londry.
“Guess you should have made like Peter Pan and flown away,” said Miss Clarke.
Mr. Dibbens looked as miserable as he did at Mrs. Henson’s dinner party.
“Our Mr. Dibbens left us the coordinates for the transfer,” said Miss Londry who was looking down at the pillar. “How thoughtful of him.”
Mr. Dibbens glared at Miss Clarke and Miss Londry with intense hatred, but still he did not speak, at least not until he saw Elton and me.
“You too!” he said when he looked our way. “Was there anyone in this place who wasn’t a bloody time cop!”
Time cop. The meaning was all too clear to me, even if the concept was not. The evening’s events had an effect on me, and those words, swift as an arrow, pierced through my whole being.
The room began to tilt side to side, and I had to shift my footing to remain standing. Then people and objects began to waver in and out of my vision. I looked at the immense machine from which a crate had disappeared just moments ago. Then at the officers and their unusual instruments. Then at Miss Clarke and Miss Londry who appeared so different from when I first met them. Everything looked so strange. So unnatural. Unnatural, that is, for 1872.
I must have been on the verge of fainting for right then my vision blurred and I felt as if my knees would buckle under me. Miss Londry came to my aid. She steadied me and I soon recovered.
Elton was not so quick to pick up on Mr. Dibbens’s meaning and expressed bewilderment over my reaction.
He looked at me and then at Mr. Dibbens, then said, “Time cop?”
Mr. Dibbens let out a bellowing laugh. He rightly understood our responses: we were not time cops. It seems his hearty laugh was taken as a cue for one of the officers to usher him out of the room and down the passage. I believe the officer was attempting to stop Mr. Dibbens from answering Elton, but the move was futile. Mr. Dibbens shouted out his answer, from deep within the winding staircase.
“WE’RE TIME TRAVELERS FROM THE FUTURE. THIS IS THE PAST, YOU IDIOT!”
Elton frantically looked around the room, taking everything in, like I had done moments before.
“Past?” he said. “This is the… but Martin, this is the present, isn’t it?”
I shook my head—sadly, no.
Elton was not as successful as me at maintaining his composure—he did faint. Thankfully, Miss Clarke was by his side and caught him.
If this were a book, I would have to call this chapter “Another Sort of Tea.” For that is what it was. All the same people were present as for the first tea, myself, Elton, Miss Clarke and Miss Londry; but my imagination at its wildest could never have written such a brilliant scene. Time travelers meeting people from another time period—who would ever think to write such a story!
We left the secret room for the library. It seems Miss Clarke and Miss Londry needed to speak to me and Elton on a few matters. Upon entering the library, several officers present quickly left, shutting the door behind them. As soon as the door was closed, however, it was opened again and in came another officer with tea. How he knew to make it or where to find us, I still have not figured out and doubt I ever will.
“How about some tea,” said Miss Londry. “Tea is always good at times like these, isn’t it cousin.”
“It is indeed, cousin,” replied Miss Clarke.
Miss Londry set the table and Miss Clarke poured the tea, while Elton and I watched in silence. I have seen a table set for tea many times, but never before did it seem so out of place. It may be because I was thinking back to the first tea. I was completely ignorant of Miss Clarke’s and Miss Londry’s true identities then, seeing nothing out of the ordinary in either lady. Now I wanted to know everything about them: their true life histories, their adventures in other time periods, how they came to choose Crestfall Estate as their residence… but as I sat at the table, stunned to silence, I knew this information would be denied me so I never did ask those questions.
I found both women appealing, even in their men’s attire. Actually, I had become accustomed to the sight and will admit to some liking of the look. When they both sat down, they leaned comfortably back into their chairs, a more relaxed manner than I was used to when in mixed company. It was apparent to me that their former personalities were put on, that they had acted their parts for their mission. But what fine actresses they were!
Miss Clarke was the more talkative and expressive of the two. She was quick to laugh out loud and was prone to using her hands when she spoke. In most situations, I would have found such activity distracting, but I found the trait likeable in her. Miss Londry was quieter, at least in comparison. Her nature was warm and friendly, but I could sense an intelligent mind working behind her pleasant façade. Both women, however, seemed to share the same jovial temperament. They often interrupted each other when speaking, but neither seemed to mind. I could tell that they were more than just partners in this mission, that they were also good friends who enjoyed each other’s company.
The evening’s events had a calming effect on both Elton and me. Instead of being nervous or afraid, we were rational and able to speak plainly. All the pieces of this long and extraordinary night were coming together in my mind to create a whole picture. Still, I did not have all the pieces. I began to ask questions, humbly and with some hesitation.
I found my first question difficult to form, as if my mind refused to give me the words, but I persevered and out it came.
“Peter Pan?” I said. The question was only one word, but both women understood what I meant.
“Yes, Peter Pan!” laughed Miss Clarke. “My mistake. Peter Pan is a character in a children’s story that will be written in about thirty year’s time. I made an error in mentioning him. Had to pretend to faint to allow us to leave the Henson’s. We had to notify headquarters that our true identities had been discovered. That’s why everyone is here. We needed to make arrests and fast, or Stanton, I mean Mr. Dibbens, and his gang would have gotten away.”
“You are the better fainter, you know,” said Miss Londry. “Mistake or no mistake, the mission was a success. Remind me to ask Kendral to pick up our equipment.”
“Oh, oh yeah,” said Miss Clarke. “We hid our things in the bushes just outside the stables. Couldn’t have taken down those three burly men in our corsets, could we.”
“Might have been interesting, though,” said Miss Londry. “I could have whacked them with my bustle.”
The image of Miss Londry hitting those men from the stables with a bustle appeared comically in my mind, and so too in Elton’s, for we both laughed out loud at the same time. The ladies did not find our conduct distasteful. In fact, I believe they found our subsequent embarrassment charming.
“Where do you come from?” I said, once I had regained my composure.
Here Miss Clarke and Miss Londry looked at each other; they appeared to be determining what they should and should not tell us.
“North America. Hundreds of years in the future,” said Miss Londry. “That’s all we can say.”
“It’s better if you don’t know,” said Miss Clarke. “Oh, and by the way, don’t write about a character named Peter Pan or—”
“Or we’ll have to come after you,” said Miss Londry.
Both found what they had said humorous. Elton and I smiled politely in response for we did not understand their full meaning to find any humour in it.
“We’re, as Mr. Dibbens said, time cops or time police officers, although we don’t call ourselves that,” explained Miss Clarke. “Our official name is Watchmen. We have the technology to travel through time, and it’s our job to protect all of history from those who try to manipulate it to their advantage. Unfortunately the bad guys also have this technology and they use it for their gain. Mostly financial gain, as in the case of Mr. Dibbens. He was buying furniture from this time period and illegally selling it in our time period. Nineteenth century artefacts are very popular right now.”
“Most people are not traveling to the past to help others, or to change the history of a country or a religion,” said Miss Londry. “Most just want to make money and are not concerned with changing historical events. You would think it would be the opposite. Of course, you still have people who want to assassinate certain political or religious figures from the past, or start wars that were averted. But that’s not our department. We’re the Arte Factum branch of the Watchmen. We deal more with cultural history and art history, not with political or military history.”
“No, not us,” said Miss Clarke. “We get the guys who bring modern texts of Shakespeare with them to the late sixteenth century so that they can be the ones who write Hamlet. How many times have we had to stop that from occurring?”
“Too many,” said Miss Londry. “Or we get people who want to be the ones to discover the steam engine, or the existence of gravity.”
“Imagine traveling to the past and meeting Shakespeare!” I said. “Although I think it wrong to steal a great writer’s literary work, or an inventor’s ideas. I can see why traveling through time would be forbidden. The past must be preserved.”
“Right,” said Miss Londry. “And no one should be allowed to trek and rummage through it, even if their goals are benign.”
Elton asked the next question and his had nothing to do with time travel.
“Are either of you married?” he said.
Neither lady found the question intrusive.
“I’m in a relationship with someone,” said Miss Londry. “He is also a watchman so we don’t see each other often. Sarah is completely unattached, though.” She turned and smiled at Miss Clarke.
“Yes, I am,” Miss Clarke said. “I’m not home often enough to establish a full-time relationship with anyone. Being a watchman, I spend many months on the job. We have the technology to bring us back to the moment when we left, but that’s rarely done because you still have aged—”
“And everyone else in your time period hasn’t,” said Miss Londry. “So you have to deal with the long time away from your loved ones. I guess that’s why watchmen often marry each other.”
“What a taxing life,” Elton said in full sympathy.
“Yes it can be taxing, but we chose it and we love it,” said Miss Clarke.
“And we believe in what we’re doing—protecting history,” said Miss Londry.
It was then that I revealed to Miss Clarke and Miss Londry how I was in the Whilshire’s garden room the night of the ball and how I had overhead their conversation. Both women were surprised at my revelation but neither seemed to disapprove. I needed to know who Penter was.
“Penter is our boss in the future,” said Miss Clarke. “We needed to return to the future to give him information that wasn’t known before the mission began.”
“A criminal from the future was on his way here and we had to stop him before he did,” said Miss Londry.
“He knew us and would have blown our cover. Although in the end our cover was blown by my mistake,” said Miss Clarke. “Until we came here, we didn’t know that this man was connected to Mr. Dibbens. But we captured him in our time period. He put up a bit of a fight, eh Gabe.”
“A bit,” said Miss Londry, light-heartedly (though I suspected this was an understatement). “Then back to the nineteenth century we went, in our corsets and bustles, and the next thing we know we’re having tea with Mrs. Whilshire. Lovely woman, Mrs. Whilshire. I will miss her.”
“You do meet some lovable characters in our line of work,” said Miss Clarke. “And some not-so-lovable. We’ve got a not-so-lovable character in the future waiting to chew us out.”
“Chew you out?” Elton and I said in unison.
“It means get in trouble,” said Miss Londry.
“Yeah,” Miss Clarke chuckled, “Big trouble.”
The tea was over too quickly. I wanted to ask Miss Clarke and Miss Londry more questions but they had duties to perform, and one of those duties included ensuring Elton and I understood the need for secrecy in all that we had seen and heard. Of course we gave our word that we would not tell a living soul of what we had learned. We wanted to preserve history as much as any watchman and understood the importance of not revealing truths before their time.
Miss Clarke and Miss Londry walked with us as far as the stables. I already knew that a watchman disguised as a police officer from my time period was with my driver, Tom, and that this watchman had told him that the commotion he heard was Mr. Dibbens and his staff being arrested for stealing ancient treasures. Elton and I were given a part in this made-up story. If someone were to ask us what happened, we were instructed to say that while the arrests were being made, we comforted Miss Clarke and Miss Londry who were totally unaware of Mr. Dibbens’s criminal activities. We were also to say that they had decided to return to London to reside permanently with their great aunt.
When we reached the stables, Elton and I bid farewell to my now former tenants. Neither of us said a word, however. What words do you say at such a parting? It was not a physical distance, nor a separation of a few hours or days—this farewell spanned the centuries. Thankfully we had our gentlemanly instincts to rely on.
We bowed, solemnly and humbly.
Miss Clarke and Miss Londry appeared quite moved by this gesture. I believe we may be two of those lovable characters Miss Clarke spoke of earlier. They then took their leave of us, returning to the manor and to a future where women were equal to men in all expectations.
Before leaving ourselves, Elton and I paused to watch the officers in the courtyard lift the crates onto wagons, presumably to return the furniture in those crates to their manufacturers. Objects which were everyday and ordinary to me, objects which I used without a care, were viewed by these people as artefacts of tremendous value. Watching those officers, I thought about my brief moment in history. Brief perhaps, yet still significant. I also thought about what a struggle it must be for them to keep everything, all ideas, events, people, in order. I felt great admiration then for Miss Clarke and Miss Londry and the duties they perform, for to maintain order is a vital and noble task.
Elton has long returned to his chair by the fireplace. He appears distraught: his head in his hands. The numerous glasses of brandy have surely affected him. I have seen him like this many times these past two years and know what to expect. He is long past talking about time travel, or watchmen, or Miss Clarke and Miss Londry. No, once I sit down in my own chair, across from his, he will only discuss his usual topics: how unhappy he is in his marriage, how Mary torments him so, and how he could never find in the whole wide world a more cherished and faithful friend than me.
Nor I, Mr. Thornborrow. Nor I.
Team Historian Walter Tyler leans forward on a dormant control panel; his outstretched arms and hands take most of his weight. At twenty-seven, he is the youngest on his team, Team 11, and the most earnest. Beside him, and attending to an active control panel, is Tembi Lotus, the team’s Time Navigator. Also in this cramped space stands Andrew Penter, Captain of Team 11. They’re all waiting for the return of the other members on their team. While Tembi works on getting these members back safely, the two men peer into the room which is directly in front of them. The room’s nickname is the Pinch, but its official name is Time Portal 115.
Underneath Walter’s right hand lies a stack of papers. Yes, papers. It’s the way he prefers to do his work, with pen and paper, and he is not the only team historian with this quirk. As the time machine revs into motion, his hand begins to close on those papers. The papers crunch and crinkle under his angry grip, but the beginning sentences can still be read: May 19, 1872—no audience will read what I am about to write. I know truths that only time should reveal. I have met people….
The sound of the time instruments doing their job is shrill but smooth and only lasts for a moment. Then out step Watchman Sarah Lewton and Watchman Gabrielle Reed from two of the portals. They both enter the navigator’s room.
“Good work,” says Penter as he shakes both Sarah’s and Gabrielle’s hands.
“Thanks, sir,” the women reply.
Sarah then turns to Walter and says apologetically, “I guess you’ve heard about that Peter Pan thing—”
Walter pushes past her, the stack of papers clutched in one hand.
Gabrielle watches as Walter approaches her. “What’s that,” she says.
“A copy of a journal,” says Walter. “I believe you know the writer, a Mr. Martin Crestfall. Here’s what he has to say about you, Reed: ‘Her blonde hair was only loosely tied up as if she was in a hurry or didn’t care if it fell down, for it looked as if it would fall down upon the slightest of breezes.’ He also calls your appearance wild!”
There is a moment of silence as both Gabrielle and Sarah mentally digest not only the journal entry written by Martin Crestfall, whom they left just hours ago, but also the annoying antics of their team historian. Sarah speaks first. She may have started off apologetic but Walter’s behavior has put her on the defensive. It always does.
“What the hell!” she says. “You’ve got his journal—we haven’t written the fucking report yet!”
“We have seventy-two hours to write a report on what went on during this mission,” says Gabrielle. “Until then Walter, you are not allowed to retrieve documentation like that.”
“Who’s breaking protocol now!” says Sarah.
Walter is not fazed by the watchmen’s reactions. He knows he has the authority to say what he just said. But the watchmen’s indifference to the error he pointed out, not to mention how they never fail to stick up for one another, makes him even angrier.
“Nineteenth century people pay close attention to dress and manners!” he says. “We can’t have sloppy watchmen—”
“ENOUGH!” says Penter. As captain of this troubled team he has had to sort out many fights. “Walter, you’re an asset to this team, but save your opinions for the reading of the report.”
Walter nods reluctantly and moves away from both women. Penter then turns his attention to Sarah and Gabrielle.
“I also broke protocol and read the journal,” he says. “But only because Naturals became involved. Yes, there are some inconsistencies in your appearance Reed, but I have full confidence that everything will be explained in your report. I just have one question at this time. I believe I already know the answer since I did read Mr. Crestfall’s journal, but I will ask it anyway: did you fire your weapons in the presence of Naturals.”
“No, we did not,” says Gabrielle.
“Had ourselves a good, old fashion fist fight, sir,” says Sarah.
“Excellent. But you did have two Naturals learn of the existence of time travel and of watchmen. It’s the first time this has happened to this team and you handled it well.”
“By the way,” says Tembi. “Mr. Crestfall’s journal entry is the only fallout I can find. I cannot find any other mention of you or time travelers or watchmen in either Mr. Crestfall’s life or Mr. Thornborrow’s. It appears they kept it all a secret for the rest of their lives.”
Both watchmen smile upon hearing that.
“Of course they would,” says Sarah.
“They’re gentlemen,” says Gabrielle, “and gentlemen always keep their word.”
“Tembi,” says Sarah, “did Martin Crestfall ever get married?”
“Yes he did,” says Tembi, “to a Miss Elaine Henson six years from when you met him. They had three children.”
“And what about Elton Thornborrow?” asks Gabrielle.
“He separated from his wife, though they never divorced,” says Tembi. “He went to live at Crestfall Estate, at Hadley Cottage. Martin often wrote about him in his journals. Elton became a favorite among Martin’s children. They called him Uncle Elty.”
“Alright, Reed and Lewton,” says Penter. “I know you take a liking to the people you meet on missions, but it’s time for you to go home. Your real homes. I don’t want to see you back here until tomorrow afternoon. You both need some solid rest.”
“Tell us more about them later, eh Tembi,” says Sarah.
Walking through the hallways of the History Preservation Police Service’s headquarters, Sarah and Gabrielle pass many of their fellow watchmen. Some are in their watchmen uniforms, while others are dressed for their missions, in Roman togas, or seventeenth century amour, or medieval tunics… all the ages have walked these hallways. Finally, the women arrive at Copernicus Tunnel, the glass passageway on the one hundred and fiftieth floor that leads directly to the Arte Factum Branch’s main office.
At the tunnel entrance, the women pause and look at each other. It has become a bit of a ritual for them. They look at each other as if to say, ‘good job’ and ‘we did it,’ and ‘great to be home’—all at the same time. The look lasts only for a moment. Then they’re off, walking briskly across the tunnel. It’s only 6:30 in the morning but the sun is already out, glinting off the surrounding buildings and basking the tunnel in bright, warm light. Watchman Sarah Lewton and Watchman Gabrielle Reed are on their way home for some sleep and are thinking of little else, but others in New Eastern City are just now waking up to the new day dawning in the year 2235.
© 2003-2004 by Kathleen Vesi. I am thirty-six years old and live in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I have published a novelette in Aphelion (May 2002) and a short story in Planet Magazine (September 2002).