I awoke in that displeasingly proportioned chamber at Amberdell Hall to find that the door was locked. I could not leave. Had I been of a less robust constitution I would certainly have suspected that such a thing was due to lady Amberdell’s displeasure at my assumption to connection to her fine family and her desire to prevent her eldest son from forming an attachment to an unfortunately impoverished cousin. However suspicion of the follies of others was not one of my vices, thus I was utterly certain in the knowledge that I had been incarcerated for my own protection; I was now, after all, a woman of fortune and high rank and surely the victim of many a malicious scheme to rob me of what was mine.
I knew from my close study of those historical events contained within the novel that most heroine’s in my position would, in their desperation to escape from their gilded prison, have searched for a secret passage. They would have crept about the room, cautious not to draw the attention of the uncouth footman placed beyond the chamber door, examining the oaken panelling for a false wooden section that might slide away at one’s touch. Failing to find such a thing she would locate an innocuous looking ornament, like the elegant porcelain soldier who gazed at me now from my own mantelshelf. This ornament, upon being pulled forth would reveal itself to be a lever that opened a door so graceful that it was exactly calculated to permit a well dressed young lady with troubled spirits to flee from her prison and proceed with only a bedside candle and her courageous countenance as assistance. The passage beyond, inevitably haunted by the spectre of the first Lord’s first wife (inescapably named Mary) who had sunken into madness and died in an inexplicable manner; this passage would lead her through the eerie chasm that lay betwixt the wall and the inner panelling. Then the delicately fine hair upon the back of her neck, a little to short to ever be considered beautiful, would rise in the chill air as she holds her breath in fearful anticipation. Whence she reaches the end of the long, dim path and all natural light that once aided her has faded from view, she extends her hand and finds a heavy door. She would, overcome suddenly by curiosity, turn the dust covered handle, summon all her not inconsiderable courage and push that mighty door, aware it is her only hope to flee the wickedness that lays behind her. Though she knows that the parlour beyond will, in all certainty slowly reveal itself to be the macabre final resting place of the current lord’s second cousin, who was famously prone to inconveniently insatiable inquisitiveness and discovered the secret of the spectral lady, before, herself, vanishing in a nervous fever one night; never to be seen again. Yet as our heroine opens the door an icy draught that would chill even the heartiest churl to the bone, would fly from that mighty ingress and extinguish her candle. As she stands in the impenetrable gloom she realises that the darkness brings with it both terror of the secrets to be discovered and relief that one will not have to face them. However I Francesca Tapestry Nonsense have never found myself to be prone to such foolish imaginings, and was un-desirous to flee from my sanctuary.
I amused myself by being idle until I heard, from below, the unmistakeable sound of a carriage approaching. I reached the window casement in time to witness the arrival of a very plain chaise that spoke of social climbing with every turn of the wheels. I watched as a gentleman and a woman descended, two people less likely to visit such a fine establishment as Amberdell Hall, it was hard to imagine, and yet here they were. I confess that my curiosity was attempting to overwhelm me. But before I could yield to it I heard the footfalls of an irritatingly ignorant footman coming to release me from my room. He opened the door and bid me follow him, I did so in a state of high interest, for why should I be summoned thus?
I did however have an inclination that I would be guided down to the parlour where the Amberdells would have gathered with an amicable party of friends to celebrate my return to my rightful home and to curse all the forces of nature that conspired to separate us thus far. However upon being shown into that handsome room I was shocked by how wrong I had been. For there was a distinct lack of mirth, and in the place of many happy relations all eager to make my acquaintance I was instead presented to the unfavourable pair whom I had seen disembark from the shameful carriage mere moments ago. It was with a lack of cordiality that verged upon the insulting that the woman (who wore a an unflattering gown of an unflattering hue) flung herself at me with an impassioned cry of; “Francesca, My dearest niece, how relieved we are that you are well!”
My gaze of vexed and distinct confusion must have told her I knew not who she was for her first outburst was followed by another.
“It is I , your aunt Swift.” said she “I am so pleased to see you once more.”
She made a motion as though to embrace me once again, but I was all haste in stepping aside.
“Pray control yourself Madame! I have no aunt.” Said I to the woman.
“My dear, she does not know you, you will alarm the child.” Said the man I took to be her husband.
“Miss Nonsense, we are your aunt and uncle Swift. You do not know us yet, we are related to you upon your father’s side. He was all distress at your disappearance, but soon became all relief when the good mistress of this fine house, Lady Amberdell told him that you had safely arrived here and that, save from a not inconsiderable nervous hysteria, seemed quite unharmed. Your Father bid me come and fetch you.” Concluded the gentleman, if he can be called such, for his visage held such a churlish character in it’s misshapen features that it was nigh on impossible to look upon him without being overwhelmed with a desire to place a cloth sack over his head.
“My wife and I hapt to be travelling in these parts, such magnificent vistas, thus we thought you might like to join us on our sojourn for a fortnight afore we return you to your home.” Continued he with an unconvincing attempt at pleasantry.
“Sir, you are mistaken on above one score. First you are most certainly not related to me, for how could I be related to such disreputable persons as this? Second my “Pappa” most certainly did not find occasion to summon you here, for Lady Amberdell is the very essence of delightful familial reunion and would not have dispatched any such message to Robert Nonsense, and thirdly Sir, you are gravely misguided if you believe I would go anywhere with you!” With this reply I tried to turn and flee from the room only to find that my path quite irrevocably blocked by a footman of such an odious countenance that he looked set to tear all those who dared cross him quite in two. I found myself once again trapped in a room against my will, however in this instance I had the misfortune of finding my companions less than agreeable.
“Francesca,” His wife spoke in a plaintive and irritating manner “I can well understand your being overwhelmed by such sudden appearance of relatives you had never believed to exist. However you must calm your nerves, and come with us quickly, for we do not wish to intrude upon the Amberdell’s hospitality, no matter how cordially given, a minute longer.”
It was this mention of haste, this inclination to avoid being noticed by my family and kind hosts that at once threw their wicked scheme into the brightest light. They meant to abduct me. The Swift’s, or whatever their real identity, full intended to away with me and demand, what I knew would be an inconceivable sum of money from the Amberdell’s. How could I stand by and permit such deuced wickedness to occur, let alone willingly allow myself to be thus used as a piece in their game?!